It was 1966 in Chu Lai. Assigned to the 7th Motor Transport Battalion, we’d just come in from a four-day run. It was quiet and we were taking turns cleaning our weapons. One of the guys suddenly stopped what he was doing, sitting there with a dumb-ass look on his face. He said, “Hey, Christmas was two days ago.”
We all stopped what we were doing, and I remember that we all just looked at him for a long moment; nobody said a word.
America’s naval war with Great Britain lasted eight years, and while the Continental Congress did establish and direct this war, most of the fighting involved fleets that originated with the colonies/states. All the American colonies owned and operated fleets of ships and deployed them independent from those of the Continental Navy. On 9 September 1776, the Continental Congress formally declared the name of the new nation the United States of America. This replaced the term “United Colonies,” which had until then been in general use. After 9 September, the colonies were referred to as States.
The largest state fleets belonged to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. Only two states had no armed ships: New Jersey and Delaware. New Hampshire had one armed ship, and Georgia operated four galleys. In total, the number of armed state vessels exceeds those of the Continental Navy by a large number. They weren’t huge ships, of course —only a few were suitable for deep-water engagements —because the purpose of the state navies was to defend coasts, ports, and harbors— the main source of state economies. Offensive warfare was a secondary concern that focused, again, defending states from British commerce-destroying operations.
Perhaps typical of these state navies was the Maryland Navy and Corps of Marines. Throughout the Revolutionary War, British barges plundered and harassed farmers living on the Maryland and Virginia Eastern Shore creeks. By 1782, Maryland had had enough and in the interest of defending local interests, commissioned Zedekiah Whaley to serve as Maryland’s Commodore. His mission was to clear the Chesapeake Bay of the British threat.
On 14 January 1776, the Maryland legislature authorized a company of Marines, whose pay was less than that paid to Continental Marines —roughly $5.50/month. Maryland paid for their initial uniform, but replacement items (shirts, shoes, stockings) were deducted from their pay. Maryland lawmakers further determined that the uniform of land forces and Marines should differ from those of their sailors. Marines wore blue uniforms.
Maryland Navy Captain George Smith assumed command of Defence in late 1776. Her first voyage to the West Indies resulted in the capture of five small prizes laden with logwood, mahogany, indigo, rum, and sugar. The Royal Navy would no doubt consider such activities as piracy, but ships at sea were fair targets for colonial navies; economically, they were struggling to survive. Onboard Defence were 4 Marine officers, 3 sergeants, 3 corporals, 1 drummer, and 34 privates.
Maryland’s vessels were mostly galleys or barges armed with one or two medium-sized guns, crews of from 65-80 men. Defence was Maryland’s largest ship (constructed in Baltimore). Maryland’s emphasis on galleys led to the need for men to crew them and for the organization of small detachments of Marines for galley service. The duties of Marines serving aboard galleys differed from those assigned to sloops or frigates.
The galley Baltimore had three appointed Marine officers before there were any privates because Maryland men would sooner serve in the land army than aboard ship. Beyond the paucity of available men to serve in Maryland’s navy, the cost of building and maintaining ships was prohibitive. In 1777, the Maryland legislature authorized the sale of Defence —it’s discharged Marines encouraged to join Maryland’s field artillery units. By 1779, Maryland retained only three ships: the galleys Conqueror, and Chester, and the schooner Dolphin. But because the British Royal Navy forced Maryland to defend communities along the Chesapeake Bay shore, in 1780, the Maryland legislature authorized the construction of four large barges, a galley, and either a sloop or a schooner. The act included …
“That a company of one-hundred men be immediately raised to serve as Marines on board said galley and sloop or schooner, and occasionally on board the said barges or rowboats; and that the governor and council be authorized and requested to appoint and commission one captain, and two lieutenants to command the said company of Marines, and to direct such officers to procure by enlistment as soon as possible the said number of healthy, able-bodied men, including two sergeants and two corporals, to serve in such company for the term of three years, unless sooner discharged.”
Maryland offered its Marines, as payment, £2.05 monthly, and a bounty of $40.00. It should come as no surprise that the company was not raised until 1782. Maryland did not fare much better with its recruitment of healthy seamen; they were unable to raise 250 sailors until 1783. None of this, however, diminishes the fighting spirit of Maryland patriots.
The Marine captain’s commission went to a gentleman named Levin Handy. Handy previously served as a lieutenant in the 4th Maryland Battalion in 1776 and then as a captain of the 5th Maryland Battalion. Handy was appointed to serve on the barge Protector on 3 August 1782.
Commodore Whaley, in command of a flotilla of four sail and oar-driven barges, spotted the enemy in Tangier Sound. Determining that the British forces were too strong for his lightly manned barges, he sailed into Onancock Creek on 28 November and asked Lieutenant Colonel John Cropper to assist him with volunteers to man his barges. Cropper gathered up three officers and 25 local men and boarded Whaley’s flagship (Protector). Setting out to confront the British, Whaley ordered an attack in the area between Smith and South Marsh islands. Closing to within 300 yards, Whaley’s force encountered heavy cannon and musket fire. Three barges turned away, leaving Protector alone to fight the British.
Protector pressed on. Gunpowder aboard the barge exploded, killing four men, others abandoned ship to avoid the flames. A musket ball killed Commodore Whaley. In hand to hand combat, Colonel Cropper was badly wounded. Overwhelmed by British Marines, Protector struck her colors and surrendered. Survivors were taken prisoner but released to return to their homes on 3 December. According to an account of the Battle of the Barges, Colonel Cropper wrote …
“Commodore Whaley was shot down a little before the enemy boarded [Protector], acting the part of a cool, intrepid, gallant officer. Captain Joseph Handy fell nigh the same time, nobly fighting with one arm after the loss of the other. Captain Levin Handy was badly wounded. There went into action in the Protector sixty-five men; twenty-five of them were killed and drowned, twenty-nine were wounded, some of which are since dead, and eleven only escaped being wounded, most of whom leaped into the water to save themselves from the explosion.”
State Marines generally were stationed aboard vessels operating in coastal waterways, but one company of Marines raised in 1782 was an exception. Major General George Rogers Clark was tasked with maintaining control over the Ohio Valley. With few men at his disposal, Clark devised several clever schemes which gave him the best possible control over a large area with limited human resources. One scheme was establishing strong posts at key locations; the other was using armed galleys or gondolas to control the waterways.
Clark had the full support of Virginia governor Benjamin Harrison; what he did not have was the support of Virginia’s treasury. The governor wanted several river vessels but only offered up £50 to pay for them; General Clarke would have to pay the rest of it out of pocket. In early 1782, Clark reported two vessels ready for service and a third on the blocks. Of the two gondolas, they were unsuccessful because they were vulnerable to ambush along the shoreline. The third vessel was unusual in several ways: she would have a 73-foot keel designed for navigation on the Ohio River. Her gunwales were four feet high and thick enough to stop arrow or bullet, and she had 46 oars and large enough to accommodate 110 men. She carried a 6-pounder, six 4-pounders, and one 2-pounder. This boat’s construction costs were £2 per day paid in Spanish currency.
It was no easy task to raise a company of Marines in 1782, so General Clarke authorized the recruitment of a company of Virginia State Marines. Clark selected Jacob Pyeatt as captain, whose experience was that of a commissary officer with the Illinois regiment since 1778. Pyeatt’s Marines would serve for six months. When mustered, the company numbered twenty enlisted men and Lieutenant William Biggs. Most of these men were discharged veterans who re-entered military service on the promise of £10 per month and suitable clothing. In total, the company consisted of one captain, one lieutenant, two carpenters, three sergeants, and fifteen privates.
Rogalia (a shortened form of “row galley”). The galley’s summer patrol of the Ohio River caused a stir among the Shawnee Indians, who assumed that Clark was preparing for an attack. Two British officers from Fort Detroit gathered an Indian army of nearly 1,000 braves intending to raid Wheeling (present-day West Virginia) and were en route there when they received word of Clark’s Marines. It was enough to cause the Indians to break off their march to defend their homeland. Rogalia helped defend the frontier even though she had a short life. Rogalia sank near Bear Grass on 1 September 1782 and Clark’s Marines were transferred to the Illinois regiment. The state Marines never made a major contribution to the Revolutionary War, they did make a small contribution in their unique way.
But there were still other Marines …
In the 19th Century, a privateer was a private person or ship that engaged in maritime warfare under a commission of war. Since robbery under arms was a common aspect of seaborne trade, all merchant ships were armed. A sovereign or delegated authority issued commissions (also, letters of marque) during wartime. These letters of marque empowered the holder to carry on all forms of hostility permissible at sea by the usages of war. This included attacking foreign vessels and taking them captive (prizes), seizing the crews as prisoners for exchange. Captive skips were subject to sale at auction with the proceeds divided by percentage between the privateer’s sponsors, shipowners, captains, and crews. The crews included private Marines.
During the Revolutionary War, there were thousands of privateers —some of these commissioned by the Continental Congress, which added to the total of ships opposing the Royal Navy. The fact that there were so many privateers in the service of the Continental Navy so early in the war suggests a level of preparedness for war seldom discussed by historians. At times, these privateers were the sole source of disrupting British lines of communication and supply lines. Their work brought millions of pounds of essential stores and war materials to the Americans while capturing or destroying British ships of war. On 23 March 1776, the Continental Congress authorized privateering. In less than a fortnight, Congress had approved the form of commissions for privateers and dispatched copies to the colonies, there to be issued to bonded privateer officers.
We do not know how many “privateer” Marines served in such a capacity, but it is likely in the thousands. Over the years, historians have referred to these men as “gentlemen sailors” and “soldiers,” but their correct title, based on their duties aboard ship, was Marine. We do know that recruiting for privateers was easy because the inducements were superior to those of the Continental or State navies. Since their mission was to destroy commerce, there were few restrictions on behavior, larger profits, and much higher pay. Privateers did help the Continental Congress achieve its mission, but they also hindered the regular naval service. First, men preferred privateer service to that of the Continental or State navy, which meant fewer able seamen available to serve on US vessels. By 1779, it was bad enough to require a Congressional embargo on privateer recruitments.
Who were these “privateer” Marines? They came from all walks of life. They were lawyers, physicians, army officers, politicians, merchants, and ministers of the gospel. All these kinds of men served as Marines on privateers. When Revenge was captured by the privateer Belle Poole, one of the Revenge’s Marines was discovered to be a woman. What drew men away from their professions (and traditional roles) was good pay and the bounty they received from their seafaring activities, and perhaps their sense of adventure. What we know is that the life of a privateer was fraught with battles, daring raids, and stormy seas. The historic record is slim, as most ship’s logs have long ago disappeared and journals and diaries from the period are few and far between, but we know enough to conclude that their exciting life did have a bearing on the outcome of the Revolutionary War.
Let us not assume that privateers prioritized any service beyond their own; British loyalists were privateers, as well. In 1782, Delaware Bay was infested with privateer barges and galleys, manned by loyalists, which preyed upon Philadelphia’s commerce. When Congress refused to act, John Willcocks, a Philadelphia merchant, took it upon himself to defend his commercial interests by fitting out a ship named Hyder Ally and operate her under a letter of marque. Selected to captain the ship was an obscure Continental Navy lieutenant, recently released from British captivity, by the name of Joshua Barney.
The 23-year-old Barney, operating with two other privateers, provided escort to a fleet of merchantmen. Near Cape May, the privateers encountered the 32-gun HMS Quebec (a frigate) under Captain Christopher Mason, the 24-gun HMS General Monk, (a sloop of war) under Captain Josias Rogers, and a loyalist privateer named Fair American (a brig) captained by Silas Talbot. Hyder Ally was armed with sixteen 6-pound guns; her escorts Charming Sally and General Greene were armed with ten and twelve guns, respectively.
On the evening of 7 April 1782, Barney’s convoy went to anchor due to a failing wind. Espied by Mason, the British squadron prepared to attack the merchantmen on the next morning, focusing on Hyder Ally because she was the largest ship and therefore the most formidable. The Americans were unaware of a British presence until the next morning. Barney ordered the merchantmen to escape further into the bay under the protection of General Green and Charming Sally, while he engaged the British. General Green ignored Barney and prepared for battle; Charming Sally went aground and was abandoned by her crew, and the merchantmen sallied along the shoreline for protection.
While HMS Quebec stood off in the bay, ostensibly to keep the Americans from escaping, HMS General Monk and Fair American advanced. Barney turned about as if to flee, a tactic he used to draw Captain Rogers closer. Talbot opened the battle at noon with two broadsides into Barney, which while accurate, had little effect. Barney kept his gun ports closed, faking a withdrawal, Talbot broke off to engage General Greene which then turned about to fake his withdrawal, but went aground. In his zeal for action, Captain Talbot began to pursue Greene, but he too went aground, sustaining significant damage to his hull.
Captain Rogers slowed his pursuit of Barney long enough to lower a boat to seize Sally. When within range of Barney, Rogers called out for Barney to heave-to. Barney answered with a broadside of grape canister, which had a terrible effect on the deck crew and British Marines. The only guns available to Rogers were his bow swivel guns, which had little effect on Hyder Ally. Barney unleashed a second broadside. Rogers maintained his pursuit and when in position, he answered Barney with a broadside of his own, but when he fired, General Monk’s guns ripped away from the deck and flipped over. The two ships were side by side and Barney ordered his gunners to reload but to hold fire until his command. Barney turned “hard a-port” to deceive Rogers further, who followed suit. Then Barney turned to starboard, colliding with Monk and becoming entangled with her rigging. Barney’s crew quickly lashed the ships together, and when fast, Barney ordered his broadside. It was a devastating assault. Barney’s Marines then began delivering withering fire onto Monk’s deck. Within thirty minutes, Rogers was wounded, all his officers were killed, and a midshipman struck Monk’s colors.
HMS Quebec withdrew without engagement.
Much of Barney’s success against General Monk was the result of his privateer Marines, most of whom signed on from Buck County rifleman under Captain Skull, but there is no doubt that Joshua Barney was a skilled seaman and a tenacious fighter. Within a few years, privateer and state navies and Marines passed from the scene, but we should remember them today as “those other Marines.”
Brewington, M. V. The Battle of Delaware Bay, 1782. Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute Press, 1939.
Burgess, D. R. Jr., The Politics of Piracy: Crime and Civil Disobedience in Colonial America. New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2014.
Coggeshall, G. History of the American Privateers and Letters of Marque. New York: Evans Publishers, 1856.
Thomson, J. E. Mercenaries, pirates, and sovereigns. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994.
 By every account, John Cropper (1755-1821) was a courageous, battle tested warrior. He accepted his first commission in 1776 as a captain in command of a shore company of the 9th Virginia Regiment and served under General Washington at Morriston that year. In 1777, he was promoted to major and appointed to command the 7th Virginia at Brandywine where he received a bayonet wound to the thigh. In 1778, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and placed in command of the 11th Virginia, participating in the Battle of Monmouth. He was quartered with troops at Valley Forge where he established a close friendship with General Washington. He returned to his home in 1779 to protect his family against British shore raiders. Having moved his wife and children to a safer location, Cropper raised and commanded a shore battery of several 4-pound guns on Parramore and Cedar islands; his battery was instrumental in the sinking HMS Thistle Tender and a companion ship responsible for raiding his community.
 The older brother of William Rogers Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition fame.
 George Rogers Clark died destitute, in large measure because the government of Virginia and Continental Congress refused to pay him what they owed him.
The true story of how Sergeant Montgomery became a private
Bad noncommissioned officers are good for only one thing: they demonstrate to their juniors what not to do if they are ever promoted to corporal or sergeant.I’ve suffered under a few bad NCOs, and about the only thing I could do about it, given the Uniform Code of Military Justice(UCMJ), was to keep my mouth shut and resolve never to be like them.
I recall with not much fondness one of our sergeants, a guard section leader at the Marine Detachment.Had George Baker not begun his cartoon strip titled Sad Sack during World War II, one might imagine that he modeled his character on Sergeant Montgomery, who truly was a sack — of something.
All of us snuffs could deal with Montgomery’s meanness; those of us who were unfortunate enough to end up in Montgomery’s section merely looked upon our assignment as just another bite from the cesspool sandwich of life.But what irritated us most was not so much that he was dumber than a pile of rocks, but that the Detachment CO and guard officer thought Montgomery was an “ideal Marine.”We were a squared away section, all right, but that had nothing to do with our section leader.There were only two explanations for following Montgomery: the first was, as I mentioned earlier, that the UCMJ demanded it, and the second was idle curiosity.
In those days, it was difficult for a squared away corporal to achieve promotion to sergeant.How Montgomery ever made corporal was the subject of several theories.Our consensus was that even a blind squirrel can find a nut.
One Marine in our section was Private Mitchell — our most squared-away looking Marine.The man’s appearance was impeccable.He could have easily appeared on any Marine Corps recruiting poster.He was film-star handsome, polite to everyone, personable, exuded genuine friendliness to almost everyone, and he was funnier than hell.Well, I suppose I should say that Mitchell was polite to everyone except Montgomery, whom he hated with unbridled passion.
Mitchell had another enviable attribute: the most devious mind of anyone I have ever met.For instance, realizing how important annual rifle re-qualification was to our CO (because he constantly reminded us of it), Mitchell intentionally went “unqualified” by a single point — for no other reason than to put Montgomery at odds with the CO.Private Mitchell was an expert rifleman.He also didn’t care what the CO thought of him.He had no intention of remaining in the Corps past the end of his enlistment (and accumulated “bad time”).You see, Mitchell was one of those Marines who refused to accept a promotion to Private First Class because he didn’t want the added responsibility.In any case, the college-educated Private Mitchell didn’t need the paltry sum of money the Marine Corps paid him because his father owned several radio stations.
The Marine Detachment had two missions.We provided armed security for our compound, and we performed honors and ceremonies for a stream of visiting dignitaries.We had several uniform combinations, from dress blue trousers and khaki shirts to modified dress blues, which is to say our dress blue blouses with white trousers.We were always changing from one uniform into another.When falling out for honors ceremonies, we carried M-1 Rifles with 18-inch chrome-plated bayonets.We banged the butt of our rifles on the deck during close order drill performances as part of the manual of arms. Except for our detachment armorer, everyone seemed to enjoy hearing the banging sound.
Early one morning, word came down that we would be performing an honor guard ceremony for the Vice President of the United States, who at the time was the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey.We dressed in our dazzling uniforms, fell out for inspection, drew our weapons, and boarded a US Navy bus over to the Naval Air Station.During the 30 or so minute ride, Montgomery offered one surly comment after another about how worthless we were; we were an embarrassment to the Marine Corps, to our Commanding Officer, to him personally, and of course, none of us would ever make it to corporal because he’d make damn sure that never happened.Most of us accepted his abuse in silence.Private Mitchell laughed.
Then there we were — standing in formation, two platoons organized according to height … the color guard placed in the center.Sergeant Montgomery, because of his height, was the second or third man in the first rank.Private Mitchell stood three men down the rank from Montgomery.
While standing at “order arms,” on the command, “fix-bayonets,” all honor guard members moved the muzzle of their rifle to the left front and re-grasped the barrel with their left hand.They reached across their torso with their right hand to take hold of the bayonet handle and withdrew it from its scabbard.With the point of the bayonet skyward, they attached the bayonet to the weapon, engaging the bayonet stud and then, grasping the handle, applied downward pressure until seating the bayonet on the bayonet stud.The “click” sound signifies the locking of the bayonet to the bayonet stud.Marines are taught to apply slight upward pressure on the bayonet to ensure the bayonet is properly seated and locked.One distinctive click from the entire honor guard reflects the precision of movement.It is a prideful sound.Then, once the Marines “fixed” bayonets, they returned to the position of “order arms.”
This is essentially what happened — except in the case of Sergeant Montgomery, whose bayonet was not properly seated. As the Vice President was making his way toward the honor guard commander, our Commanding Officer, he executed an about-face and ordered “Present Arms.”Every Marine was standing at the position of “order arms” (their rifles resting on the deck next to their right foot), their right hand grasping the forward edge of the barrel guard.We smartly lifted our rifles off the deck to execute the movement, bringing it front and center of our body.It is a two-count movement, snap and pop.But then, at that very instant, Sergeant Montgomery’s bayonet went sailing through the air, struck Private Mitchell on his right cheek, and fell to the deck with a loud clatter.
Some people claim that our Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor.I disagree.
Private Mitchell’s immediate reaction was magnificent.He screamed out in feigned pain (there was some blood, but not much) in character with any Hollywood production of world war combat and then collapsed to the ground next to Montgomery’s bayonet.I’m not sure how impressed the Vice President of the United States was with Mitchell’s performance, but I can say with certitude that we snuffs were damned impressed.The CO was impressed, as well, but in another vein.
Navy corpsmen whisked Mitchell off to the dispensary (he had a band-aid wound).Later in the day, after all the ranting and raving ceased (CO, XO, First Sergeant, and Guard Chief), Sergeant Montgomery visited the CO at nonjudicial punishment and became a corporal once more.Mitchell could not have been more pleased with himself.The event still makes me laugh when I think about it.But even as a corporal, Montgomery outranked Mitchell —as everyone did— and Corporal Montgomery made it known to Mitchell that his life would be hell from that point on.
Over the next several weeks, Private Mitchell ended up with every “shit detail” Corporal Montgomery could think of.Mitchell didn’t seem to mind; “shit details” are what privates do for a living.It was about 40 or so days after the bayonet fiasco that a package arrived addressed to the Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment.Opening the package, the First Sergeant found an assemblage of documents that appeared to suggest, indeed prove, that Corporal Montgomery was simultaneously married to two women.It was an amazing revelation because Montgomery was an unlovely person.A fact-finding investigation conducted by the executive officer determined that wife number two knew nothing about wife number one, living “back home” in Kentucky.She was no doubt surprised to learn about wife number two, with whom Montgomery cohabitated locally.The Commanding Officer referred Corporal Montgomery to a special court-martial.The court found Montgomery “guilty as charged” (bigamy, making false official statements, defrauding the government) and reduced him to Private.The court also sent Montgomery to the Camp Allen Brig for a few months.
Mitchell could not have been happier.With Montgomery’s reduction to private, Mitchell outranked him.
My friend in the administrative section confided to me over a beer or two, or three, at the local slop-chute, that he thought the envelope’s handwriting resembled Mitchell’s.He told me he compared the writing on the envelope with Mitchell’s service record book (SRB).Now personally, I liked the idea that Mitchell was clever enough to uncover Montgomery’s perfidy. Still, I concluded that maybe my buddy in “admin” was full of … er, making up the story.What did I know?Nothing, actually — but we snuffs lived for rumor and innuendo.
Between the 12th and 15th centuries, interconnecting river and sea trade routes transformed Europe’s economy.This development led to Europe becoming the world’s most prosperous trade networks.The only limiting factor to river or sea trade was the inadequacy of ships for that purpose.As Spain began a campaign to push Moslems out of the Iberian Peninsula, it realized economic growth in Andalusia and eventually allowed Spain to seize Lisbon in 1147.In Venice, Genoa, and Pisa, the Italians dominated trade in the eastern Mediterranean.In the North Atlantic, Norsemen began their conquest of England, which evolved into the development of peaceful trade along the North Sea.Trade organizations developed, which involved merchant guilds in northern Germany.
Historians credit the beginning of the Age of Discovery to the Portuguese, under the patronage of Infante Dom Henrique (also known as Prince Henry the Navigator).Henry directed the development of lighter ships, a design known as the caravel.With improved sails, the caravel could sail farther and faster than any other ship of the day.The caravel was highly maneuverable and could sail nearer the wind.With this ship, the Portuguese began exploring the Atlantic coast of Africa [Note 1].
In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias reached the Indian Ocean by sailing around the Horn of Africa.Perhaps the most significant discovery of all was Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the American continent in 1492.This discovery set into motion competition between Portugal and Spain, under whose patronage Columbus made his discovery.To avoid conflicts between these two nations, the Pope issued bulls, which divided the world into two exploration regions. The Pope granted each kingdom exclusive rights to claim newly discovered lands [Note 2].
Gradually, other European states developed maritime interests that placed them into direct competition with Portugal and Spain.In pursuing these interests, exploring nations attacked the ships and seized their competitors’ cargos; it was a behavior that led European countries toward the development of navies, which they used to protect their ships, shipments, and foreign operating bases.Newly discovered lands would be of no benefit to European adventurers unless or until these new lands were conquered, controlled, and colonized.Through the use of superior military technologies, Europeans enslaved indigenous peoples. They used them to harvest the new lands’ bounties, which included precious metals, previously unknown grains, spices, and fruits.
By the 16th century, Italians and Arabs shared a monopoly on overland trade with India and China.The Portuguese broke this monopoly by developing sea routes to both countries.Rivals for business, notably the Dutch East Indies Company, soon eclipsed the Portuguese by establishing bases of operation in Malacca, Ceylon, several Indian port cities, Indonesia, and Japan [Note 3].
In this competitive setting, European powers pursued their overseas interests through treaty, colonization, conquest, or a combination of all three.Trade with China was desirable because of the high demand for Chinese goods and because they offered immense profits.Through the 1700s, China had become the center of the world economy [Note 4].Every European power wanted a trade relationship with China that favored their country at every other competitor’s expense.The inability of the Qing (also Ch’ing) Dynasty to deal with internal challenges in the late 1700s sent a strong signal to the European powers (and Japan) that China was ripe for the taking.
The Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) was China’s last imperial dynasty.Evidence of dynastic decline became evident when Chinese officials proved incapable of ending sectarian violence among Sufi Moslem groups.The Qing’s interference in Moslem affairs led to an insurrection that lasted from 1781 to 1813.It was only with the assistance of a third Moslem group that the rebellion was finally put down.
Soon after the uprising, the European powers (and Japan) began chipping away at Chinese sovereignty —and continued to do so for nearly seventy years.For the Chinese, European and Japanese encroachments were far more than a lengthy series of military assaults; they were the catalyst of a national identity crisis and damaged the Chinese psyche.After several hundreds of years of deluding themselves into believing China was the center of the universe, the Chinese suddenly learned that much-younger nations possessed far superior technologies and had no hesitation in using them to achieve selfish interests.Foreign powers took advantage of every opportunity to whittle away at Chinese sovereignty, including the illegal importation of opium from Afghanistan, India, and Turkey.
In earlier times, chemists believed opium contained harmless healing properties, but in the early to late 1700s, its true nature became apparent as tens of thousands of people became addicted to opium.As more Chinese became opium-dependent, increased demand drove prices higher, which increased the profits of foreign trading companies, smugglers, dealers, and government officials who accepted bribes to look the other way.Finally, realizing opium’s effects, Emperor Jia-Qing issued a succession of edicts (1729, 1799, 1814, and 1831) declaring opium illegal and imposing severe penalties for its importation use.The only tangible result of these laws was that (a) they made opium even more profitable, and (b) high demand for opium guaranteed its continued importation.Everyone involved in the opium trade was making money —except the user.
Opium aside, China enjoyed a favorable trade balance with European interests.China sold porcelains, silks, and tea in exchange for silver bullion.In the late 18th century, the British East India Company (BEIC) expanded the cultivation of opium within its Indian Bengal territories, selling it to private traders who transported it to China.In 1787, BEIC sent 4,000 chests of opium to China annually.By 1833, 30,000 chests went to China.American shipping companies were also engaged in opium, including the grandfather of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the ancestors of former Secretary of State John F. Kerry.The opium trade was euphemistically called the “Old China Trade.”Other foreign powers became involved in opium, as well. BEIC may have lost its monopoly, but profits remained high.
Partly concerned about his people’s moral decay, and somewhat concerned about the outflow of silver, the Emperor directed his high commissioner, Lin Tse-Hsu, to end the trade.Lin ordered the seizure of all opium, including that held in foreign trading company warehouses.Charles Elliott, Chief Superintendent of British Trade (in China), was very quickly inundated with British merchants’ complaints.To assuage their concerns, Elliott authorized the issuance of credits to merchants for 20,000 chests of opium, which he promptly turned over to Commissioner Lin.Lin destroyed the opium; Elliott immediately cabled London, suggesting the British Army’s use to protect the United Kingdom’s investments in the opium trade.
A small skirmish occurred between British and Chinese vessels in the Kowloon Estuary in early September 1839.In May 1840, the British government sent troops to impose reparations for British traders’ financial losses in China and to guarantee future security for trade.On 21 June 1840, a British naval force arrived off Macao and began a bombardment of the city of Din-Hai.Chinese naval forces sent to interdict the Royal Navy were utterly destroyed.The Treaty of Nanking (1842), which ended this First Opium War, was the first of many “unequal treaties” imposed on China.China agreed to cede to the British the island of Hong Kong (and surrounding smaller islands) and granted treaty ports at Shanghai, Canton, Ning-Po, Foo-Chow, and Amoy.
In 1853, northern China became embroiled in a massive civil war known today as the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64).Its leader was Hong Xiu Quan —a man who believed that he was the brother of Jesus of Nazareth.The stated intentions of the Taiping were to (a) convert the Chinese people to Hong’s version of Christianity, (b) overthrow the Qing Dynasty, and (c) reform the state.Hong established his capital at Nan-King.
Despite this massively disruptive upheaval, the Emperor appointed Ye Ming-Chen as his new high commissioner and ordered him to stamp out the opium trade.Ye’s seizure of the British ship Arrow prompted the British Governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Browning, to again request the Royal Navy’s assistance.The British fleet, under Admiral Sir Michael Seymour [Note 5] responded by bombarding fortifications outside the city of Canton.
When Chinese mobs set British properties on fire on 15 December, Browning requested military intervention.The murder of a missionary prompted the French to align with Great Britain against the Chinese government.The Russian Empire soon joined the fray, demanding greater concessions from China, including the legalization of the opium trade and exempting foreign traders from import duties.In late June 1858, foreign powers forced China to pay reparations for the Second Opium War, open additional port cities to European commerce, and authorize missionaries’ unlimited access to Chinese cities.Like circling sharks, Europeans and the Japanese began to carve out their niches in China —sometimes through secret agreements, at other times through military conflict.
By the late 1800s, Shandong Province in North China, long known for social unrest, strange religious sects, and martial societies, had had enough foreign meddling in Chinese affairs.One of these societies was the Yihe-Quan, loosely translated as The Righteous and Harmonious Fists.They were called “Boxers” because of their martial arts expertise and their use of traditional Chinese weapons.The Boxers were staunchly anti-Imperialistic, anti-foreign, and anti-Christian.
The people of North China had long resented the arrogant meddling of Christian missionaries. This outrage grew worse after the Treaty of Tientsin in 1860, which granted foreign missionaries’ freedom of movement throughout China and the government’s authority to purchase land and build churches.Chinese villagers objected to the foreign settlements that developed around these Christian church communities.Natural calamities did not help matters [Note 6].
In November 1897, a band of armed Chinese men stormed a German missionary’s residence and killed two priests.The murders prompted Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II to send a naval squadron to seize Jia-Zhou Bay on the Shandong Peninsula’s southern coast [Note 7].Wilhelm’s intent to seize Chinese territory initiated a scramble for further concessions by the British, French, Russians, and Japanese.Germany gained exclusive control of developmental loans, mining, and railway systems in Shandong.Russia gained complete control of all territory north of the Great Wall, which they soon occupied with Russian military forces.The French gained control of Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guangdong provinces.The Japanese gained control over Fujian province, and the British gained control over the entire Yangtze River Valley, from Tibet to the Henan and Zhejiang provinces.The Italians, for whatever reasons, were excluded.
In Chinese religious myth, the Jade Emperor represents the first god, one of three pure ones and the highest power of all Chinese deities.A temple to the Jade Emperor had been built in the village of Li-Yuan-Tun.In 1869, the temple was converted to a Catholic Church.Soon afterward, the French minister in Peking demanded (and received) authorization for the Li-Yuan-Tun priests to bypass local officials in family law and authority to resolve regional disputes.In 1898, the Guangxi Emperor proclaimed the so-called Hundred Days of Reform (22 June-21 September).The reform period enraged Chinese conservatives, as it served to prove that the Qing Dynasty was corrupt, weak, or both.Boxers attacked the Christian community, murdering priests and others.
In an attempt to avoid another uprising, the Empress Dowager Cixi [Note 8] placed the reformist Guangxi Emperor under house arrest and assumed absolute power in China.What made the Boxers particularly worrisome to Cixi was that they were mostly unemployed teenagers with nothing better to do.After several months of ever-increasing violence against foreigners (generally) and missionaries (mostly) in Shandong and on the North China Plain, the Boxers covered on Peking (present-day Beijing). They demanded either the expulsion or extermination of all foreigners.
The Boxer crisis was one of national prominence and one primarily caused by foreign aggression in China.From the Chinese perspective, foreigners were slowly but steadily dismembering China, destroying Chinese culture, and demeaning Chinese religious beliefs.
Initially, Cixi viewed the Boxers as bandits, but realizing that most Chinese conservatives supported the Boxers, she changed her position and issued edicts in their defense.In the spring of 1900, the Boxer movement spread rapidly north from Shandong into the Peking countryside.The Boxers burned Christian churches, killed Chinese Christians, intimidated Chinese officials, or murdered anyone who stood in their way.American Minister Edwin H. Conger cabled Washington, stating, “…the whole country is swarming with hungry, discontented, hopeless idlers.”
Christian missionaries flocked to the Legation seeking the protection of their various ministers on 28-29 May.On 30 May, British Minister Claude Maxwell MacDonald requested multinational troops to secure the Legation.Ambassador Conger cabled Washington to protect the Asiatic Fleet; Kaiser Wilhelm II was so alarmed by the Chinese-Moslem troops that he requested intervention by the Caliph Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire.
The situation in Peking continued to deteriorate, prompting Admiral Seymour of the Royal Navy to dispatch a second force
On 31 May, Captain John Twiggs (Handsome Jack) Myers, U. S. Marine Corps, arrived in Peking in command of two ship’s detachments of American Marines.The guard force consisted of Myers and twenty-five Marines from USS Oregon, Captain Newt Hall, 23 Marines, five sailors, and U. S. Navy Assistant Surgeon T. M. Lippert from the USS Newark.British and Russian troops, numbering around 325, arrived the same day.
On 5 June, Boxers cut the railway line to Tianjin, isolating Peking and making further military reinforcements difficult.
On 10 June, the “Great eight” organized a second multi-national force under British Vice Admiral Sir Edward Seymour [Note 5] —the largest contingent of which were British, augmented with 112 American sailors and Marines. Captain Bowman McCalla of the U. S. Navy was appointed to serve as Admiral Seymour’s second in command.
Admiral Seymour obtained the Chinese foreign office (headed by Prince Qing) to proceed. Still, when the Empress Dowager learned about Qing’s approval, she replaced him with Prince Duan, a radical anti-western member of the royal family.Prince Duan was the de facto head of the Boxer movement, and it was Prince Duan who ordered the Chinese Imperial Army to attack the western powers.
Admiral Seymour’s expedition had not progressed very far when he discovered that Chinese Boxers destroyed the railway tracks in front of him.He considered returning to Tianjin [Note 9] but found that the Chinese also ripped up those tracks.The distance between Tianjin and Peking was only about 75 miles, prompting Seymour to proceed on foot.
On 11 June, the Japanese minister to China was attacked and murdered by Chinese soldiers guarding the Yong-Ding Gate on the southern wall.The murder was likely intentional because the Chinese commander, General Dong Fu-Xiang, had earlier issued violent threats toward foreign legations.On the same day, German sentries observed the first Boxer in the Legation Quarter.German Minister Clemens von Ketteler ordered his soldiers to capture the Boxer, a teenager, whom Ketteler ordered executed.
Beyond inhumane, killing the lad was a foolish decision because the boy’s execution served only to enrage the Boxers further.In retaliation, thousands of Boxers attacked the walled city.So furious were the Boxers that they began a systematic campaign of pillaging, arson, and murder of all Christian properties and persons, including Chinese Christians.Joining them were gleeful Chinese Moslems.In fear for their lives, dozens of American and British missionaries took refuge inside the Methodist Mission.A Boxer onslaught there was repulsed by U. S. Marines.
On 18 June, Vice Admiral Seymour received word of the Boxer attacks.
On 18 June, the Empress Dowager warned foreign ministers that a state of war would exist between China and the western powers unless they withdrew from Peking within 24-hours.Cixi promised safe passage out of Peking, but only as far as Tientsin.Presumably, after that, the diplomats would be “on their own.”
The Seymour expedition had advanced to within 25 miles of Peking when his relief force was set upon by overwhelming numbers of Boxers and Imperial Chinese soldiers [Note 10].The attacks were so unrelenting (and bizarre) that Seymour was forced to seize and then occupy the Chinese forts at Taku [Note 11].By that time, two hundred of Seymour’s men had either been killed or wounded, and the men were low on ammunition, food, water, and medical supplies.It was a victory for the Chinese, but at a terrible cost in Boxer and Imperial Army lives.Seymour dispatched a Chinese servant with word of his predicament to the Peking legation.
On 19 June, the foreign ministers within the Legation informed the Empress Dowager that they had no intention of withdrawing from Peking.Cixi issued her declaration of war on 20 June; a Boxer/Imperial army siege of the city began on the same day.
Also, on 19 June, Major Littleton W. T. Waller arrived at Taku in command of 107 Marines detached from the First Regiment at Cavite, Philippines.Along with another detachment of 32 Marines, those men formed a light battalion, who immediately moved inland to join a Russian column of 400 men.The small force set off for Tianjin at around 0200 on 21 June.Facing them were between 1,500 to 2,000 Chinese combatants.
The Chinese outnumbered the joint force from the start.When the international force encountered intense enemy fire, they retreated.Waller and his Marines served as a rearguard contingent, forced to leave behind his dead and drag his wounded men.Waller successfully fought off a numerically superior Chinese force and reached the relative safety of Tianjin City. After providing for his wounded Marines, Major Waller immediately attached his remaining men to the 1,800-man British column formed under Commander Christopher Cradock, Royal Navy.At 0400 on 24 June, Cradock’s international expedition (consisting of Italians, Germans, Japanese, Russians, British, and American military contingents) set off again to relieve the Legation.They instead ended up rescuing Admiral Seymour.
In Peking, the Boxers were initially content to harass the foreign Legation with harassing rifle and artillery fires, but there was no organized assault.Foreign ministers agreed to form pro-active, mutually supporting military defenses with the few men at their disposal.On 15 June, Captain Myers placed his Marines on the Tartar Wall, a critical position that would otherwise allow Boxers to direct devastating fire into the legation area.
On 25 June, Seymour was at the point of being overrun by Chinese Boxers and Imperial soldiers when Cradock’s regiment reached what remained of Seymour’s expedition.Admiral Seymour and the relief force marched back to Tianjin unopposed on 26 June.In total, Seymour suffered 62 killed and 228 wounded.
In Peking, Boxers decided to employ the anaconda tactic of squeezing legation guards to death.To accomplish this, they constructed barricades some distance from the front of the Marine position—each day moving them further forward to the legation perimeter.During the night of 28 June, Private Richard Quinn reconnoitered one of these barricades by low-crawling to the barricade.His observation of Boxer activities provided useful intelligence as to the Boxer’s intentions.
On 2 July, Captain Myers determined that he had had enough of the Chinese “squeezing” strategy.The Chinese barricade was, in Myers’ opinion, unacceptably close to the legation perimeter.He decided to organize his men for an assault against the Chinese fence.
Myers launched his assault at 0200 on 3 July.The timing and weather conditions couldn’t have been more perfect.The attack commenced in the middle of a torrential downpour.The legation guard’s attack drove the Boxers back several hundred yards.Two Marines were killed during the attack, and Captain Myers received a severe wound in the leg from a Chinese pike.After the action, Captain Myers was evacuated to the Russian Legation. He received medical treatment; his injury was significant enough to cause Myers to pass his command to Captain Newt Hall.After the assault, sniper and artillery fire died down, and diplomats agreed to an informal truce on 16 July.The desultory fire continued, however, until the foreign legations were relieved on 14 August.
On 6 July, the U. S. Ninth Infantry Regiment joined the allied force near Tianjin.
On 10 July, Colonel Robert L. Meade, commanding the First Marine Regiment, led 318 Marines ashore from USS Brooklyn.Meade led his Marines to Tianjin and joined up with Waller’s battalion.Meade assumed command of all American military forces.
On 13 July, the allied forces launched an assault against Tianjin under Major General Alfred Gaselee, British Army (known as the Gaselee Expedition), appointed as Supreme Commander of the international force [Note 12]. Fighting took place for most of the day with little allied advance.Meade’s 450 Marines suffered 21 casualties.A Japanese-led night attack broke through the Chinese defenses, giving international force access to the walled city.
On 28 July, diplomats in the Legation Quarter received their first message from the outside world in more than a month.A Chinese boy—a student of missionary William S. Ament, covertly entered the Legation Quarter with news that a rescue army of the Eight-Nation Alliance had arrived in Tianjin and would shortly begin its advance.For some, the news was hardly reassuring because the Seymour expedition had failed to break through the Chinese Boxer and Imperial Army.
On 30 July, Brigadier General Adna R. Chaffee, U. S. Army, arrived in Tianjin to assume command of all U. S. Forces in China.Also arriving with Chaffee was one battalion of Marines under Major William P. Biddle [Note 13], two battalions of the Fourteenth U. S. Infantry, the Sixth U. S. Cavalry, and one battery of the Fifth U. S. Artillery.On 4 August, the international expedition of approximately 18,000 men departed from Tianjin for Peking.Chaffee’s force included around 2,500 men, including 425 Marines.
On 5 August, Japanese forces of the international expedition engaged and defeated Chinese forces at Pei-Tsang.A second battle occurred the next day at Yang-Stun.For many allied troops, the unseen enemy was the broiling heat, which caused numerous heat casualties during the 75-mile march to Peking.
On 13 August, the Chinese broke the temporary truce with the foreign Legation with a sustained artillery barrage.The barrage lasted until around 0200 on 14 August.
Five national contingents advanced on Peking’s walls on 14 August: British, American, Japanese, Russian, and French.Each of these had a gate in the wall as their primary objective.The Japanese and Russians encountered the heaviest Chinese resistance.The British entered the city through an unguarded entrance and proceeded into the city with virtually no Chinese opposition.
Rather than forcing their way through a fortified gate, the Americans decided instead to scale the walls.Marines destroyed Chinese snipers and set up an observation post from the vantage point of being on the high wall.In the Marine’s assault, First Lieutenant Smedley D. Butler and two enlisted men received gunshot wounds.
U. S. Marines advanced to the Old Imperial City on 15 August, encountering sporadic resistance, but scattered gunfire did continue to plague the American Legation for several more months.By the end of the siege, Marine casualties included 7 killed, 11 wounded, including Captain Myers and Assistant Surgeon Lippert.
Among the Marines who participated in the Boxer Rebellion, thirty-three received the Medal of Honor … including Private Harry Fisher [Note 14], killed on 16 July 1900; he was the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Diplomats signed a Boxer protocol in September 1901.
Cohen, P. A. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
Edgerton, R. B.Warriors of the Rising Sun: A History of the Japanese Military.Norton & Co., 1997.
Harrington, P.Peking, 1900: The Boxer Rebellion.Osprey Publishing, 2001.
Martin, W. A. P.The Siege of Peking: China Against the World.New York: F. H. Revell Company, 1900.
Myers, John T. “Military Operations and Defense of the Siege of Peking.Proceedings of the U. S. Naval Institute, September 1902.
O’Connor, R. The Spirit Soldier: A Historical Narrative of the Boxer Rebellion.New York: Putnam, 1973.
Plante, T. K.U. S. Marines in the Boxer Rebellion.Prologue Magazine, Winter 1999.
 Aided by a Chinese invention known as the magnetic compass, first used in Europe around 1200 AD.
 Later modified by the Treaty of Tordesillas, which established an arbitrary line east of which were relegated to Portugal, west of which belonged to Spain.
 In 1599, Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate closed its borders or limited contacts with foreigners until the mid-1800s.
 Between the 15th and 18th centuries, silver had become the medium of exchange between China and Spain.Approximately 35% of all silver bullion produced in the Americas found its way to China.
 Sir Michael Seymour was the uncle of Sir Edward Seymour, also a Royal Navy admiral.
 Traditional Chinese viewed natural (cyclic) events, such as earthquakes, droughts, and severe flooding, as omens that the ruling Emperor had lost the mandate of heaven.Such periods were frequently accompanied by civil unrest and dynastic changes.
 The German government was likely less bothered about the murder of two priests and more interested in using the incident to obtain more concessions from the Chinese government.
 Empress Dowager is the English title given to the mother or widow of an East Asian emperor.Cixi was born with the name Yehe Nara Xing-Zhen of the Manchu clan.She was selected as a concubine to the Emperor Xian-Feng and gave birth to a son in 1856.When the Xian-Feng Emperor died in 1861, her son became the Tong-Zhi Emperor, and she became the Empress Dowager.Calling herself Cixi, she ousted a group of regents appointed by the late Emperor and assumed the regency.She gained control over the dynasty after installing her nephew as the Guangxi Emperor when her son died in 1875.She may have poisoned her nephew after keeping him under house arrest for a while.
 The cities Tianjin and Tientsin are the same; they are merely English language spelling variations from the Chinese lettering.However, there were two distinct areas of the city.In 1900, there were two adjacent subdivisions, one to the Northwest was the ancient high-walled city measuring about one-mile on each side.To the Southeast, about two miles away along the Hai River, was the treaty port and foreign settlements, measuring about a half-mile wide.Around a million Chinese lived within the walled city; the port settlement housed around 700 European merchants, missionaries, and approximately 10,000 Chinese servants, employees, or businessmen.Two of these residents were the American Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou Henry-Hoover.Hoover later became President of the United States.
 Seymour’s glaring error was that (a) he assumed that his western force could easily push aside the Chinese Boxers, and (b) he elected not to include field artillery within the expedition’s composition.
 Chinese Boxers and Imperial troops employed well-aimed artillery against Seymour, and a number of different tactics to keep the western powers off their guard.For example, the Chinese redirected waterways to flood the main routes of march, ambuscades, pincer assaults, and sniper attacks.Seymour’s discovery of a substantial cache of Imperial Chinese arms and ammunition (including Krupp field guns), a million or so pounds of rice, and ample medical supplies saved the expedition from total destruction.
 The actual senior military officer present was General (Baron) Motomi Yamaguchi.Yamaguchi was not selected as supreme commander owing to the fact that he wasn’t a white man.The Japanese contingent did distinguish itself during this series of actions.
 Biddle served as 11th Commandant of the Marine Corps (Major General Commandant) (3 February 1911-24 February 1914).
 Harry Fisher was a soldier and a U. S. Marine and the first to receive a posthumous award of our nation’s highest military decoration.After his award, it was discovered that Private Fisher had enlisted in the Marine Corps under a false name.He had previously served in the U. S. First Infantry Regiment.When the Army refused his request for sick leave (having contracted malaria during the Spanish-American War), he deserted for the purpose of receiving proper medical treatment.When he afterward attempted to restore himself to duty, the War Department refused, and he was “discharged without honor.”His real name was Franklin J. Phillips (20 Oct 1874 – 16 July 1900).With a dishonorable discharge on his record, he changed his name to Harry Fisher and joined the U. S. Marine Corps.