The Gun Maker

There are many positive things to say about the American Republic —along with a few deserved criticisms.  One of my criticisms is that we Americans seem never to learn important lessons from history —so we are continually forced to relearn them.  This relearning process is too often painful for our nation —for its complex society.  Maybe one day we’ll smarten up, but I’m not holding my breath.

Speaking of lessons unlearned, given their experience with the British Army the founding fathers were distrustful of standing armies.  I find this odd because the British Army’s presence within the thirteen colonies prevented hostile attacks against British settlements.  Years later, at the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812, observing how the American militia cut and run when confronted with a well-trained British Army, President James Madison remarked, “I could never have believed so great a difference existed between regular troops and a militia force if I had not witnessed the scenes of this day.”

Our reliance on state or federal militia to defend our homeland was one of those unlearned lessons.  War is not for amateurs.  Federalized state militias during the American Civil War were not much of an improvement over the Revolutionary War minute men.  History shows us, too, that finding enough resources to fight a war against Spain in Cuba was very close to becoming an unmitigated disaster.  There was only one combat force ready for war in 1898; the U. S. Marine Corps was able to field a single (reinforced) battalion —one that was engaged with the enemy before the Army figured out which of its senior officers was in charge.  Who knows how many horses drowned because the Army couldn’t figure out how to unload them from transport ships and get them to shore.

The United States was still unprepared for combat service at the beginning of the First World War.  Politicians —those geniuses in Washington— had little interest in creating and maintaining a standing armed force.  Worse, our military leaders were incompetent and complacent, and as a result of this, the US military lacked modern weapons.  When Congress declared war against Imperial Germany, the American army was forced to rely on weapons provided by Great Britain and France.  It wasn’t that the United States had no weapons, only that our arsenal was a mishmash of firearms requiring an assortment of munitions that were both inadequate and inefficient for the demands of general war.  In particular, the United States arsenal included ten different revolvers of varying calibers, 12 rifles of foreign and domestic manufacture, and six variants of automatic weapons/machine guns.

Some Background

The Puckle Gun

The world’s first rapid-fire weapon was the brainchild of James Puckle (1667-1724), a British inventor, a lawyer, and a writer, who in 1718 invented a multi-shot gun mounted on a wheeled stand capable of firing nine rounds per minute.  The Puckle Gun consisted of six flintlock barrels, operated manually by a crew.  The barrel was roughly three feet long with a bore measuring 1.25 inches (32mm).  The weapon was hand loaded with powder and shot while detached from its base.  To my knowledge, this device was never used in combat.

Today, we classify machine guns as either light, medium, or heavy weapons.  The light machine gun (with bipod for stability) is usually operated by a single soldier.  It has a box-like magazine and is chambered for small caliber, intermediate power ammunition.  Medium machine guns are general purpose weapons that are belt-fed, mounted on bi-or tripods, and fired using full power ammunition.  The term “heavy machine gun” may refer to water-cooled, belt-fed weapons, operated by a machine gun team, and mounted on a tripod (classified as heavy due to its weight), or machine guns chambered for high-powered ammunition.  Heavy machine gun ammunition is of larger caliber than that used by light and medium guns, usually .50 caliber or 12.7mm.

Gatling Gun

One example of America’s use of rapid-fire weapons was the weapon designed by Richard J. Gatling in 1861, which seems to follow the Puckle design.  Called the Gatling Gun, it was the forerunner of the modern machine gun (and of modern electric motor-driven rotary guns and cannons).  It saw only occasional use during the American Civil War, and only sporadic use through 1911.  It was not an easily transportable weapon.

Wide use of rapid-fire (machine) guns changed the tactics and strategies of warfare.  Magazine or belt fed ammunition gave opposing armies substantial increases in fire power.  No longer could soldiers advance in a frontal assault without incurring massive casualties, which then led to trench warfare.  Machine guns would never have been possible without advances in ammunition —a shift away from muzzle loading single-shot weapons to cartridges that contain the round, propellant, and means of ignition.

The first recoil-operated rapid-fire weapon was the creation of Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim in 1884, a British-American inventor.  The Maxim gun was used by the British in several colonial wars between 1886-1914.  Maxim’s work led to research and development by Hotchkiss[1], Lewis, Browning, Rasmussen[2], Mauser, and others.

First World War 

The only machine guns available to the United States at the beginning of World War I were the Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié, the Chauchat M1915, M1918 (pronounced Show-sha), which was a light machine gun made in France, Belgium, and Poland, the Colt-Vickers (called the potato digger) was a British water-cooled .303 caliber gun, the Hotchkiss 1914, and the Lewis gun[3].  While the Lewis gun was designed in the United States in 1911, no one in the Army’s Ordnance Department was much interested in it, which caused inventor Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis to seek license for its production in the United Kingdom in 1914.

Some of these machine guns were more dependable than others; they are, after all, only machines.  But one consequence of faulty weapons was the needless combat-related deaths of many young men, whose weapons failed to work at critical moments.  Whenever combat troops lose confidence in their weapons, they become less aggressive in combat; they lose their determination to win —they lose battles.

America’s War Department in 1914 was inept.  Not only were the Army’s senior leader’s incompetent, the entire organization was ill-prepared to carry out the will of Congress.  Of course, the Congress might have taken note of these conditions before declaring war on Germany in 1917, but it didn’t.  Before America could go to war, it was necessary to increase the size of the Army through conscription, complete re-armament was necessary, and massive amounts of spending was required to satisfy the needs of general war.  Until that could happen, until war technology could be developed, the American soldier and Marine would have to make do with French and British armaments.

In 1917, John Browning personally delivered to the War Department two types of automatic weapons, complete with plans and detailed manufacturing specifications.  One of these weapons was a water-cooled machine gun; the other a shoulder fired automatic rifle known then as the Browning Machine Rifle (BMR).  Both weapons were chambered for the US standard 30.06 cartridge.  After an initial demonstration of the weapons capabilities with the US Army Ordnance Department, a second public demonstration was scheduled in south Washington DC, at a place called Congress Heights.

On 27 February 1917, the Army staged a live-fire demonstration that so impressed senior military officers, members of Congress, and the press, that Browning was immediately awarded a contract for the production of the BMR and was favored with the Army’s willingness to conduct additional tests on the Browning machine gun.

In May 1917, the US Army Ordnance Department began this additional testing of the machine gun at the Springfield Armory.  At the conclusion of these tests, the Army recommended immediate adoption of Browning’s weapon.  To avoid confusing the two Browning automatic weapons, the rifle became known as the M1917 Rifle, Caliber .30, Automatic, Browning.  Over time, the weapon was referred to as simply the Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR.

What was needed then was a company capable of producing the weapons in the quantities needed to arm a field army —which is to say, three infantry corps, each consisting of three infantry divisions, each of those having three regiments, and each regiment consisting of three infantry battalions.  It would be a massive undertaking.  Since the Colt Firearms Company was already under contract to produce the Vickers machine gun for the British Army, Winchester Repeating Arms Company was designated the project’s primary manufacturer.  Winchester, after providing invaluable service to Browning and the Army in refining the final design to the BAR, re-tooled its factory for mass production.  One example of Winchester’s contribution was the redesign of the ejection port, which was changed to expel casings to the left rather than straight up.

The BAR began arriving in France in July 1918; the first to receive them was the US 79th Infantry Division.  The weapon first went into combat against German troops in mid-September.  The weapon had a devastating impact on the Germans —so much so that France and Great Britain ordered more than 20,000 BARs.

B. A. R.

The Marines, always considered the red-headed stepchildren of the U. S. Armed Forces, now serving alongside US Army infantry units, were never slated to receive these new weapons.  Undaunted, Marines of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment developed a bartering system with co-located units of the 36th Infantry Division.  The Marines traded their Chauchats to the soldiers in exchange for the new BAR.  Given what I know of the average Marine’s ability to scavenge needed or desired resources, I have no doubt that the Marines were able to convince the doggies that one day, the soldiers would be able to retain the French guns as war souvenirs[4], whereas the BARs would have to be surrendered after the war.  Unhappily for the Marines, senior Army officers learned of this arrangement and the Marines were ordered to surrender the BARs and take back their Chauchats.

The BAR was retained in continual use by the US Armed Forces (less the Air Force, of course) from 1918 to the mid-1970s.  The BAR’s service history includes World War I, Spanish Civil War, World War II, Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War[5], Indonesian Revolution, Korean War, Palestinian Civil War, First Indochina War, Algerian War, and in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Cyprus, and the Thai-Laotian Border War.

The Man

The BMG and BAR were not Browning’s only accomplishments.

John Moses Browning was born into a Mormon family on 23 January 1855.  His father, Jonathan, was among literally thousands of Mormon pioneers that made their exodus from Illinois to Utah.  The elder Browning established a gun shop in Ogden in1852.  As a Mormon in good standing, Jonathan had three wives and fathered 22 children.

John Browning began working in his father’s gun shop at around the age of seven where he learned basic engineering and manufacturing principles, and where his father encouraged him to experiment with new concepts.  He developed his first rifle in 1878 and soon after founded the company that would become the Browning Arms Company.  In partnership with Winchester Repeating Arms Company, Browning developed rifles and shotguns, from the falling block single shot 1885 to the Winchester Model 1886, Model 1895, the Model 1897 pump shotgun, and Remington Model 8.  He also developed cartridges that were superior to other firearm company designs.

John Moses Browning

Browning Arms Company is responsible for the M1899/1900 .32 ACP pistol, M1900 .38 ACP, M1902 .38 ACP, M1903 Pocket Hammer .38 ACP, M1903 9mm Browning Long, M1903 Pocket Hammerless .32 ACP, M1906/08 Vest Pocket .25 ACP, M1908 Pocket Hammerless .380 ACP, the US M1911A1 .45 ACP, Browning Hi-Power 9mm Parabellum, the Colt Woodsman .22 long rifle, and BDA handguns in .38 and .45 ACP.  He developed ten variants of shotgun, eleven rifles, six machine guns, and was awarded 128 patents. 

The Legacy

What it takes to win battles is reliable weapons expertly employed against the enemy.  John Browning gave us expertly designed, quality manufactured weapons to win battles.

We no longer rely on state militias to fight our wars, but we have taken a turn toward including more reserve organizations in our poorly chosen fights.  The US also has, today, a robust weapons development program to give our Armed Forces a battlefield advantage.  Despite past failures in providing our frontline troops quality weapons, the US Marines have always succeeded against our enemies with the weapons at their disposal.  Occasionally, even entrenching tools were used with telling effect against the enemy.

If American Marines have learned anything at all about warfare since 1775, it is that success in battle depends on never taking a knife to a gunfight.

Sources:

  1. Borth, C. Masters of Mass Production.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1945.
  2. Browning, J. and Curt Gentry. John M. Browning: American Gunmaker.  New York: Doubleday, 1964.
  3. Gilman, D. C., and H. T. Peck (et.al.), eds. New International Encyclopedia.  New York: Dodd-Mead.
  4. Miller, D. The History of Browning Firearms.  Globe-Pequot, 2008.
  5. Willbanks, J. H.  Machine guns: An Illustrated History of their Impact.  Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2004.

Endnotes:

[1] Benjamin B. Hotchkiss (1826-1885) was an American who, after the American Civil War, with the US government little interested in funding new weapons, moved to France and set up a munitions factory he named Hotchkiss et Cie.

[2] Julius A. Rasmussen and Theodor Schouboe designed a machine gun that was adopted by the Danish Minister of War, whose name was Colonel Wilhelm Herman Oluf Madsen.  They called it the Madsen Machine Gun.

[3] The invention of Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis in 1911 that was based on the initial work of Samuel Maclean.  The US Army’s ordnance department was not interested in the Lewis Gun because of differences between the Chief of Ordnance, Brigadier General William Crozier and Colonel Lewis.

[4] Larceny has been a Marine Corps tradition since the 1890s.  During World War II, Marines were known to steal hospital sheets from adjacent Navy hospitals, make “captured Japanese flags” out of them, and sell them to sailors and soldiers as war souvenirs.  During the Vietnam War, anything belonging to the Army or Navy that was not tied down and guarded 24-hours a day was liable to end up on a Marine Corps compound.  In 1976, three Marines were court-martialed for stealing two (2) Army 6×6 trucks, attempting to conceal the thefts by repainting the trucks and assigning them fraudulent vehicle ID numbers.  In 1976, our Marines were still driving trucks from the Korean and Vietnam War periods.  Despite overwhelming evidence that these three Marines were guilty as hell, a court-martial board consisting of five Marine officers and a Navy lieutenant, acquitted them.  Apparently, no one sitting as a member of the court thought it was wrong to steal from the Army.

[5] Franklin Roosevelt’s “lend-lease” program provided thousands of US made weapons to the Communist Chinese Army during World War II.  The Communists under Mao Zedong hid these weapons away until after Japan’s defeat, and then used them to good advantage against the Chinese Nationalists.  Some of these weapons were used against American soldiers and Marines during the brief “occupation” of China following World War II.  The United States  government continues to arm potential enemies of the United States, which in my view is a criminal act.

Admiral of the Navy

Some background

As with most military officers of the 19th century, George Dewey was born into a prominent family that offered him the resources and support that he needed to achieve great success in life —and George Dewey did exactly that.  George’s father Julius was a physician in Montpelier, Vermont; an astute businessman (one of the founders of the National Life Insurance Company), and a devoted Christian.  George had two older brothers and a younger sister—all of whom received a good education.  When George reached his fifteenth birthday, his father sent him to the Norwich Military School (now Norwich University), where he studied for two years.

In 1854, George received an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy; it was a time when the cadet corps was small —averaging only around one-hundred midshipmen per class.  Of course, the naval and military academies aren’t for everyone; each class experienced a significant attrition rate, which made the graduating class about a small percentage of its freshman populations.  George’s graduating class advanced fourteen young men, with George finishing fifth.  From then on, George Dewey served with distinction on several ships.  At the beginning of the American Civil War, Dewey served as an executive lieutenant on the USS Mississippi, a paddle steamer frigate assigned to the Gulf Blockading Squadron and later participated in operations at New Orleans, Port Hudson, and Donaldsonville.  In 1864, Dewey was transferred to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron for service on USS Colorado under Commodore Henry K. Thatcher.  Colorado took part in the two battles at Fort Fisher (Wilmington, North Carolina).  It was during the second battle that Dewey’s tactical ability and courage under fire led to favorable mention in the New York Times.

Following war time service, Dewey followed the normal progression of a naval officer.  Promoted to Lieutenant Commander, Dewey served as the executive officer[1] of the USS Colorado, served at the USNA at Annapolis, and as a shore survey officer with the Pacific Coast Survey.  While serving in this billet, George lost his wife due to complications of childbirth.

After four years of survey work, Commander Dewey received orders to Washington where he was assigned to the Lighthouse Board.  It was an important assignment and one that gave him access to prominent members of Washington society.  By every account, Dewey was popular among the Washington elite.  The Metropolitan Club invited him to apply for membership; it was a leading social club of the time.

In 1882, Dewey assumed command of USS Juniata with the Asiatic Squadron.  Promoted to Captain two years later, he assumed command of USS Dolphin, which was one of the original “white squadron” ships of the Navy[2].  In 1885, Dewey was placed in command of USS Pensacola, where he remained for three years.  Pensacola was the flagship of the European squadron.  From 1893-96, Dewey served as a staff officer at Naval headquarters.  He was advanced to Commodore[3] in 1896.

When the navy began looking for a new Asiatic Squadron commander, no one seriously considered Commodore Dewey because he was too junior in rank.  As it turns out, though, Dewey’s Washington-area assignments and his membership in the Metropolitan Club paid off.  Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt interceded with President McKinley for Dewey’s assignment as Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Squadron.  It was a fortunate turn of events for the United States.

Dewey assumed command of the Asiatic Fleet in January 1898 and departed for Hong Kong to inspect US warships at the British colony.  Upon arrival in Hong Kong, Dewey learned of the destruction of USS Maine in Havana Harbor.  Even though skeptical of the possibility that the United States would go to war against Spain[4], Dewey readied his squadron for war.  Washington dispatched USS Baltimore to Hong Kong and Dewey purchased the British colliers Nanshan and Zafiro, retaining their British crewmen.

Spanish-American War

At the time Congress declared war against Spain, the United States military was a shamble.  The Army was barely capable of confronting hostile Indians in the American west, much less a major European power.  The Army was understrength, underequipped, undertrained, and worse than this, an incompetent officer corps led it.  The Navy was in a rebuilding process (thanks to Roosevelt), and the strength of the Marine Corps was small and widely distributed throughout the world.  The only edge the United States had against Spain was that the Spanish military was in far worse shape.

When the United States declared war, the United Kingdom quickly asserted its neutrality.  As a neutral power, the British governor ordered the US fleet out of the harbor.  Dewey removed his squadron into Chinese waters near Mirs Bay, north of Hong Kong.

The congressional declaration came on 25 April, retroactive to 21 April.  Five days before the Congressional declaration, however, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long ordered the formation of an expeditionary battalion of Marines.  By 21 April, the First Marine Battalion[5] was already embarked aboard ship and headed for Key West, Florida for staging and final preparations for war.  Meanwhile, the US Army was still trying to figure out how to organize regiments for duty in the field.

On 27 April, Dewey sailed from Chinese waters aboard his flagship USS Olympia with orders to attack the Spanish Fleet at Manilla Bay.  Three days later, the Asiatic Squadron was poised at the mouth of Manilla Bay.  He gave the order to attack at first light on the morning of 1 May 1898.  Dewey’s squadron soundly defeated the Spanish in a battle that lasted only six hours.  The Spanish fleet was either sunk, captured, or scuttled; fortifications in Manilla were rendered moot.  Only one American sailor died in the assault, an older chief petty officer who suffered a heart attack.  Owing to his success at Manilla, Dewey was advanced to Rear Admiral on 1 May 1898. 

The U. S. Coast Guard Joins the Fight

At the time of the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, US Coast Guard Revenue Cutter McCulloch was at sea on an extended shakedown cruise from Hampton Roads to her assigned station at San Francisco.  On her arrival in Singapore orders were received to proceed with all possible speed to Hong Kong and report to Commodore Dewey for further duty.  The ship arrived on 17 April and sailed with the fleet for Mirs Bay and a week later, to Manila.  While a smaller vessel and not built for naval service she was a very welcome and valuable addition to the Asiatic Squadron.  McCulloch performed excellent patrol and dispatch services throughout the period of hostilities and until November 1898 when she resumed her voyage to San Francisco.

On 29 June 1898 McCulloch received a signal from Olympia; which read “Spanish gunboat sighted bearing north-west apparently attempting to reach Manila, intercept and capture.”  McCulloch broke her record getting under way and set a course to get between the gunboat and the foreign shipping of Manila.  The unidentified ship changed her course to meet the cutter head on flying a flag at the fore, a pennant at the main, and a flag at the gaff, all of which were indistinguishable because of the light.  However, upon closing with the ship, McCulloch discovered that she was flying a white flag at the fore. After heaving to, a boarding officer discovered that the ship was the Spanish gunboat Leyte, which had escaped during the early morning of 1 May.  Leyte had remained in hiding in one of the numerous rivers emptying into the bay but could neither escape to sea or avoid the attacks of the Filipino insurgents and so her commanding officer decided to surrender.

McCulloch’s prize crew hauled down the Spanish flag and raised the US flag.  The prize crew promptly proceeded to Olympia and anchored off her starboard quarter. McCulloch accompanied her and sent a whale boat to the Leyte to take her commanding officer and the prize master to the flagship.

That morning, McCulloch had refueled in a manner customary to the Coast Guard, but not to the Navy.  Moreover, a heavy rain squall had kicked up a choppy sea.  When the whale boat came alongside Olympia, the prize master and captured Spanish captain mounted the gangway and were promptly escorted to Admiral Dewey, who was sitting, as usual, in a wicker chair on the quarter deck.  The prize master saluted and said, “Sir, I have to report the capture of the Spanish gunboat Leyte.  I herewith deliver the officer commanding on board.”  If the prize master anticipated a hero’s welcome, he was disappointed.  Admiral Dewey looked up sharply and said, “Very well, sir … and I want to tell you that your boat’s crew pulls like a lot of damn farmers.[6]

From that wicker chair on the quarterdeck there was very little that went on in Manila Bay that escaped Admiral Dewey’s sharp eyes.  His tongue was known as rapier sharp[7].

Philippine Occupation

All was not going well for the Americans in the Philippines.  With the defeat of Spain, Philippine nationalists revealed themselves and they were not entirely pleased about having to exchange one colonial master for another.  In 1895, Emilio Aguinaldo joined other nationalists seeking to expel Spanish colonials and achieve national independence through armed force.  While Dewey was attacking the Spanish from the sea in 1898, Aguinaldo was attacking them from land.  Initially, Dewey and Aguinaldo enjoyed a cordial relationship, but within six months, Dewey was threatening to shell Aguinaldo’s forces in order to allow the unopposed arrival of US Army forces under the command of Major General Wesley Merritt[8] who was tasked to take formal possession of Manilla on 13 August 1898.

In May, Major General (of volunteers) Elwell S. Otis, U. S. Army was dispatched to the Philippines with reinforcements for Merritt.  In late August, Otis replaced Merritt as Commander, Eighth Army and military governor of the Philippines.  As the military governor, first Merritt and later Otis were supreme in all matters ashore.  Because the Philippine Islands was America’s first extraterritorial possession, there was an associated learning queue; mistakes were made, and occasionally, American arrogance got in the way.

Of issues pertaining to jurisdiction and policy in the Philippines (generally) and to the local vicinity of Manila (particularly), there was no single point of view and not all questions were settled to everyone’s satisfaction.  Under these circumstances, there were occasions when someone stepped on someone else’s toes  Admiral Dewey had wanted to subdue Manilla, but in lacking enough land forces to achieve it, had no other option than to wait for the arrival of the US Army.

The affairs of the newly acquired territory were conducted by a joint board in which Admiral Dewey and General Otis were its most influential members. Meetings were held on shore and were usually agreeable affairs, but not always.  Admiral Dewey had little patience for long-winded discussions; on one occasion, having listened to blather long enough, stormed out of the meeting and returned to his ship.

In order to properly police the Pasig river and the adjacent back country it was necessary to have an efficient riverine force.  This duty fell to the Army.  Four vessels were so employed: the Oeste, a large tug given to the Army by the Navy; the Napindan, the Covadonga and the larger Laguna de Bay, which served the river patrol’s flagship.  The two latter-named boats were chartered or commandeered vessels.  Laguna de Bay had sloping casemated upper works and looked like a small edition of the confederate Merrimack [later, CSS Virginia].  All four vessels were protected with boiler plate and railroad iron.  This small fleet was manned by the 3rd US Artillery[9].

Occasionally this non-descript collection of river boats, which were mission-sufficient (but far from “ship shape”) would come out of the Pasig river for a turn in the bay on some business or other.  Now, since the waters of the bay were within Admiral Dewey’s domain, each time one of the river craft went beyond the lighthouse Dewey became apoplectic with rage and would order them back.  It happened too frequently, which prompted Dewey to send Otis a terse note warning him that the next time he found a river craft operating in the bay, the Navy would sink it.  The river craft never again reappeared in Manilla Bay.  General Otis was the better man in this instance by not challenging Dewey’s warning.

Admiral Dewey was ordered back to the United States on 27 September 1899.  Upon arrival, he received a hero’s welcome, which involved parades in New York City and Boston.  By an act of congress, Dewey was promoted to the special rank of Admiral of the Navy in 1903, his date of rank retroactive to 1899.  The congressional act provided that when such office became vacant, upon Dewey’s death, the office would cease to exist.  He was, therefore, the only officer of the United States Navy to serve in that rank, one he retained until his death on 16 January 1917.  George Dewey served as a naval officer for 62 years.

Sources:

  1. Adams, W. H. D.  Dewey and Other Great Naval Commanders, a Series of Biographies. New York: G. Routledge, 1899.
  2. Albion, R. G.  Makers of Naval Policy 1798-1947. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 1980.
  3. Barrett, J. Admiral George Dewey: A Sketch of the Man. New York: Harper, 1899.
  4. Dewey, G.  Autobiography of George Dewey, Admiral of the Navy. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1987.
  5. Ellis, E. S. Dewey and Other Naval Commanders. New York: Hovendon Press., 1899.
  6. Love, R. W. Jr.  History of the U.S. Navy, 1775-1941. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1992.

Endnotes:

[1] Second in command.

[2] The squadron of evolution (white squadron) was a transitional unit in the late 19th century.  It was composed of protected cruisers (Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago) and dispatch boats (Dolphin and Yorktown).  Bennington and Concord joined the squadron in 1891.  USS Chicago served as the squadron admiral’s flag ship.  Having both full rigged masts and steam engines, the White Squadron was influential in the beginning of steel shipbuilding.

[3] In 1896, Commodore was a one-star rank junior to Rear Admiral.  In 1899, the navy abandoned the rank (revived during World War II) and used it exclusively as a title bestowed on US Navy captains placed in command of squadrons containing more than one vessel or functional air wings not part of a carrier air wing.  Today, the equivalent rank for commodore is Rear Admiral (Lower Half), and even though such persons wear two stars of a Rear Admiral, they are equivalent to the one-star rank of brigadier general in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

[4]  Dewey believed there was little to gain from a war with Spain.  Dewey had a short view of the situation because there was much at stake in this conflict.

[5] Five days before the declaration of war, Acting Secretary of the Navy John D. Long ordered Major General Charles Heywood, Commandant of the Marine Corps, to organize one battalion of Marines for expeditionary duty with the North Atlantic Squadron.  The battalion was named the First Marine Battalion and placed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Huntington, a 40-year veteran of service as a Marine.

[6] It is the responsibility of seniors (officers or enlisted men) to lead and mentor their subordinates.  There can be little doubt that Admiral Dewey was an irascible fellow; I have worked under such men myself.  But I believe Dewey’s snappishness resulted from his own training, his uncompromising insistence that subordinates exhibit pride in their seamanship and strive for perfection in the art and science of the naval profession.

[7] Story related and passed down from Captain Ridgley, U. S. Coast Guard, who at the time served aboard McCulloch.

[8] Merritt served in the Civil War as a cavalry officer with additional service in the Indian wars and the Philippine-American War.  After Dewey’s destruction of the Spanish Fleet, Merritt was placed in command of the newly formed Eighth Army Corps.  Merritt, with all available troops in the United States, departed for the Philippines form San Francisco in early June 1898.  In August 1898, Merritt became the first American military governor of the Philippine Islands.

[9] It was no small matter to train artillerymen to operate water craft.

Retribution

cropped-old-corps-ega.pngBrigadier General Robert Leamy Meade was truly “Old Corps.”  Born in 1842, he was the nephew of Civil War Major General George G. Meade.  On 14 June 1862, Robert L. Meade received an appointment as a U. S. Marine Corps as a second lieutenant.  A year later, he led a raid against Fort Sumter, South Carolina and, despite this courageous effort, Meade was captured by its rebel occupants and spent the remainder of the war as a guest of the Confederate States Army.  After the war, in recognition of his “gallant and meritorious service” while getting himself captured, Meade was brevetted to First Lieutenant.

In the post-war period, Meade served in several assignments that were typical of Marine Corps service in those days.  He commanded the Marine Detachment aboard the first US warship to visit Cochin (present-day Vietnam), he served as Commanding Officer, Marine Barracks at the New York Navy Yard, and later as the barracks commander in Boston.  It was while serving in Boston that the Assistant Secretary of the Navy prevailed upon Major Meade to consider hiring a construction company that was known to the secretary for their good work in military construction projects.  Meade considered the Assistant Secretary’s suggestion as wholly inappropriate and somewhat arrogantly rebuffed Theodore Roosevelt’s recommendation.  It was in this way that Robert L. Meade acquired a life-long political enemy.

The incident, while minor, illustrates how little politics has changed over the past 130 years.

In 1898, Theodore Roosevelt was instrumental in starting a “splendid little war” with Spain, known today as the Spanish-American War.  At the time, Lieutenant Colonel Meade was serving as the Fleet Marine Officer aboard the USS New York, during which time he participated in the Battle of Santiago in Cuba.  Meade’s inconsiderate (and some say, ungentlemanly) treatment of Spanish prisoners of war prompted Captain Victor Maria Concas y Palau, serving in command of the Spanish cruiser Infanta Maria Teresa to complain in writing about Meade’s poor attitude.  In his letter, Captain Palau stated quite emphatically that Meade’s lack of humanity contributed to the death of several Spanish sailors by refusing to afford these wounded men adequate medical treatment.   Captain Palau also complained about Meade’s blatant disrespect toward Spanish officers.  Both of these charges are very likely true.

Nevertheless, in 1899, Meade was advanced to the rank of colonel and received orders to assume command of the 1st Marine Brigade in the Philippines.  He would replace Lieutenant Colonel George F. Elliott, who was transferred back to the United States.  Meade, as it turns out, was very much the same kind of man as his contemporary, Henry Clay Cochran, who was known as cantankerous, a stickler for adherence to regulations and protocol, and harshly critical of almost everyone and everything.  Meade was also known for having pronounced affectations and for having little hesitance in offering a sharp rebuke.

One of the things that drove Meade into a tyrannical rant was a lack of punctuality among his officers and men.  He would not tolerate it, and he trusted no man to be at an appointed place and time without constant reminders.  Anyone who was late for muster, or late in reporting for duty, received ten days of arrest.  There was never any discussion about this.  Meade ruled his officers and men with an iron hand.  One of Meade’s officers observed, “The Colonel puts a crimp in everyone’s style.”

Meade R L BrigGen 001Not long after Colonel Meade (shown left after retirement) arrived at Cavite, Philippine Islands, he began issuing a stream of seemingly inexhaustible orders and was intent upon informing his officers of every rule, every regulation, and every policy imaginable.  His officers, especially the lieutenants, deeply resented being treated like schoolboys.  The lieutenants particularly disliked Meade’s insistence that they dine in full uniform.  He would not permit them to remove their blouses and dine in their shirtsleeves, which given the excruciatingly hot and humid conditions in the Philippines, might have been warranted.  After all, it wasn’t as if the officers were dining at the White House.  Every meal made these junior officers even more resentful of Meade for his silly protocol.  Each meal added insult to injury.

Being lieutenants, the young men began to look for ways to convey their profound unhappiness to the colonel of the brigade, but none of their ideas, each presented at clandestine assemblages, seemed plausible (or safe).  No one was foolish enough to present their complaint directly to the colonel, of course, because to do so would end any possibility of a career in the Marine Corps.  Besides that, all their ideas seemed completely impracticable.  The young officers continued to suffer and fume among themselves.

But then, since the Lord has a soft spot in His heart for lieutenants, Colonel Meade was laid up with rheumatism, a painful condition producing great discomfort.  In those days, the only remedy for rheumatism was light duty and topical treatments.  Colonel Meade’s physician confined him to his quarters while undergoing medical care.

In the Marine Corps, there are few intelligence gathering systems more efficient or impressive than the junior officer’s spy network.  It wasn’t long before the lieutenants learned of Colonel Meade’s intense hatred of monkeys, which in the Philippines are quite populous.  The constant chattering and scampering about of primates atop the corrugated tin roof of the colonel’s quarters was particularly annoying and they could not be quieted.  Colonel Meade endured this constant racket for two full nights, and the longer it went on, the more profane Meade became.

Colonel Meade’s orderly was Private Coughlin.  Coughlin’s good friend was a young man who performed orderly duties for the lieutenants.  The source of their information thus established, the lieutenants learned about Meade’s unhappiness with the monkeys and his muttering threats about having them shot.  They also learned about the colonel’s double barrel shotgun, which he kept stored in a closet, and that Colonel Meade had ordered Coughlin to obtain a box of double-ought buckshot shells.  It was this information that prompted the lieutenants to call another clandestine meeting.

Philippine Macaque 001The plan called for two groups of lieutenants.  One group, having collected a sum of money from all members of the lieutenant’s protective association, purchased every caged monkey they could get their hands on from the nearby village.  The second group performed a careful safety inspection of the shotgun shells.  That very night, in the safety of early morning darkness, Meade’s lieutenants liberated the caged monkeys into trees surrounding the Colonel’s quarters.

At dawn, the roof of Colonel Meade’s quarters was a solid mass of squabbling monkeys —so much so, in fact, that there was hardly any room for any more of them on the colonel’s roof or in any of the surrounding trees.  If this wasn’t bad enough, the cheeky monkeys were leaping from the trees to the colonel’s open windowsills.  At one-minute past dawn, Colonel Meade roared for his orderly.  “Private Coughlin!  Bring me my god-damned shotgun!”

Private Coughlin was quite worried.  The colonel was beside himself, stomping from one end of his quarters to the other, cursing like a sailor.  Considering the colonel’s state of mind, Private Coughlin was anxious about placing a weapon in his hand, but of course, orderlies do not argue with their officers.  Coughlin dutifully took the shotgun out of a closet and presented it to his commanding officer.

The expression on Colonel Meade’s face was maniacal.  Refusing to take the weapon, the colonel roared at Coughlin, “Private, I want you to shoot every one of these god-damned monkeys!”  Less than twenty feet away, sitting on the windowsill of the colonel’s bedroom, was a screeching monkey.  “And start with that bastard,” Colonel Meade added, pointing.

Private Coughlin loaded the double barrel weapon and took aim.  The Monkey defiantly chattered and shrieked at Coughlin, but the Marine, a veteran of several battles, calmly pulled the trigger.  The blast was deafening, and shotgun residue filled the space between Private Coughlin and the windowsill.  One might have expected to observe a monkey shot to pieces.  No, the monkey remained in the window —more agitated and fussing even more loudly.  Confused, Coughlin first looked at the weapon, and then at Colonel Meade standing a few feet away.  “Shoot him, damn you,” the colonel thundered.

Private Coughlin again took aim and pulled the second trigger.  Another loud blast followed by even more residue … and the monkey, remaining very much alive, began running helter-skelter inside the colonel’s bedroom.  Colonel Meade stood staring in disbelief.  Private Coughlin was perplexed. He didn’t understand … but the purple-faced colonel who stomped off into his drawing room understood.  Someone had reloaded his shotgun shells with sawdust.

Colonel Meade’s lieutenants had taken their revenge.

Later that morning, after consulting with his adjutant, Colonel Meade passed the word that henceforth, the officers would be allowed to dine in shirt sleeves.  That very night, quite amazingly, all but a mere handful of monkeys disappeared from around the Colonel’s quarters.

A few weeks later, Colonel Meade received orders transferring him to serve as Senior Marine Officer at the International Legation in Peking where he would occupy his time dealing with the so-called Boxer Rebellion.  Eventually, Meade returned to the United States for medical reasons.  In recognition of his distinguished service in China, Meade was brevetted to the rank of brigadier general on 13 July 1900.

In 1903, Major General Charles Haywood retired from his post as Commandant of the Marine Corps.  With Haywood’s retirement, Brigadier General Meade became the most senior officer on active duty.  According to tradition, Meade was next in line to serve as Commandant, and he might have received that appointment were it not for the fact that President Theodore Roosevelt had a long memory.  Passing Meade over, Roosevelt instead promoted George F. Elliott to Major General and appointed him to serve as Commandant, U. S. Marine Corps.

Brigadier General Meade retired from active service in 1906.  He passed away in 1910 and was buried with honors in Huntington, New York.

Source:  Colonel Frederic M. Wise, USMC (Deceased): A Marine Tells It to You.  J. L. Sears Company, 1929.  Colonel Wise was a lieutenant serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the monkey incident.

RIVER FIGHTS: The Middle Years

War with Mexico

The US Navy added to its growing experience in inland operations during the Mexican War.  When hostilities began, Commodore David Conner, commanding the Home Squadron, blockaded the Mexican Gulf Coast.  The blockade forced the enemy to use inland waterways and overland routes to move supplies.  San Juan Bautista, 74 miles up the Tabasco River from Frontera, was a distribution center for contraband war materials.  The river had ample depth to accommodate large vessels but there were significant obstacles in planning for an assault.  The river’s current was strong, dense vegetation provided good cover for riflemen and snipers.  The river also took a sharp (and hazardous) “S” bend (called the Devil’s Turn) and there were two strategically placed forts guarding the approaches to San Juan Bautista.   Normally, sailing vessels alone would have little chance of success —but at this time, the US Navy was incorporating steam engines into the fleet.  The Home Squadron had several small steam-powered ships of war.

On 23 October 1846, a naval expeditionary force under Commodore Matthew C. Perry crossed the sand bar at Frontera and seized the town with little to no resistance.  Then, with three steamers and four other vessels, proceeded upriver to San Juan with a 200-man landing party.  The journey took around 33 hours.  Anticipated resistance 9 miles below San Juan never materialized because the Mexican garrisons fled as soon as they could see the American ships closing for action.

Arriving at San Juan before noon on 25 October, Perry demanded the town’s surrender.  When the Alcalde[1] returned an insolent reply, Perry fired on the central flag staff, destroying it.  Perry spared the town but to keep shipping out of the hands of insurgents and gun runners, he seized two Mexican steamers, five schooners, and several smaller craft.  When Mexican riflemen opened fire on Perry’s squadron, Perry had his cannon rake the streets, which effectively ended all interest in firing on the Americanos.  Neither of the two towns was occupied, but Frontera was blockaded for six months.  When the blockade was lifted, Mexican smugglers began their activities anew.

In mid-June 1847, Commodore Perry was ready to ascend the Tabasco River for the second time.  This time, Perry assembled a larger force.  An advocate of naval infantry drill and landing party training, Perry formed a naval brigade of 2,500 officers, seamen, and Marines.  Captain J. Mayo was appointed to command the brigade.  Perry’s squadron included four small steam warships, six schooners, bomb brigs, and numerous ships’ boats.

At the first elbow of the Devil’s Turn, lead ships encountered small arms fire from dense chaparral banks.  Ships’ fire silenced the shooters, but obstructions had been placed in the river around the turn.  Well-manned breastworks on the shore provided a Mexican firing platform.  After reconnoitering the obstructions, Perry landed his brigade for the nine-mile march overland to San Juan.

While Perry led his naval brigade through the swamps and  jungle, Lieutenant David Dixon Porter[2] assumed command of the flotilla and worked his ships through the obstructions.  Perry’s combined force successfully routed 600 Mexican troops at Accachappa and moved on to Fort Iturbide situated just below San Juan.  Fort Iturbide had a battery of six guns and 400 infantry troops.  Porter led the flotilla into Mexican fire and then, under the protective cover of ship’s cannonade, he released a landing party to assault the fort.  The Mexicans broke before the charge.  When Perry and the brigade arrived, the American flag was already flying above the fort.

In two separate instances, Perry demonstrated the value of coordinated tactical inland penetrations.  The operation against San Juan Bautista was a valuable lesson for the US Navy; it would come in handy again in the not-too-distant future.

The Rude War

The U. S. Navy’s main advantage over the Confederate States of America in 1861 was that the south had no navy at the beginning of the Civil War.  Accordingly, the Union navy had, and retained, its control of the sea at all stages of this conflict.  The U. S. Navy implemented three broad strategies: (a) naval blockade of southern coastal regions, (b) amphibious assault and capture of port cities and strong points, (c) splitting the Confederacy along the Mississippi River (and tributaries) and seizing inland waterways to crush Confederate resistance.  The Union navy’s effective 3,000-mile blockade and the imbalance of opposing naval forces resulted in its ability to focus on coastal and inland riverine operations[3].

Commander John D. Rodgers, placed in overall charge of riverine operations for the navy, selected vessels and readied a force under Army control in northwestern waters with its headquarters near Cairo, Illinois (at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers).  From this location, Union vessels could influence river traffic in Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri.  Rodgers purchased and converted river steamers into wooden gunboats: Tyler, Lexington, and Conestoga.  Through the War Department, Rodgers contracted for seven additional gunboats (named for the cities they would defend).  These “city class” vessels became the backbone of the river fleet.  They were 175-feet long, had a 50-foot beam, and the top deck was shielded with heavy armor.  Thirteen guns included old-fashioned 42-pounders (supplied by the Army), and 8-inch and 32-pound navy guns.

While the city class boats were under construction, the wooden gunboats made significant contributions to the Union effort.  These former sidewheelers, unarmored and vulnerable, could not have challenged a seagoing warship or stout fortification but they did achieve good results.  In a nation with few and exceedingly poor roads, they controlled the river highways.  Moreover, they provided mobility and speed of movement of troops and supplies, surprise attack, and flexibility in strategy and tactics, and rapid exchange of information between and among field commanders.

Strong southern sentiment permeated the Ohio and Mississippi river systems.  One effect of the gunboats was that they discouraged secessionists and gave confidence to Unionists.  Fence-sitters stayed out of the way.  Alfred Thayer Mahan[4] was convinced that the riverine force was of inestimable service in keeping alive attachment to the Union and preventing secession by Kentucky and Missouri.

The Battle of Belmont (Missouri) was joined on 7 November 1861, the first combat test in the Civil War for Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant.  On 6 November, Grant moved his 3,000 troops by riverboat from Cairo to assault the Confederate outpost near Belmont, which was across the river from the rebel stronghold at Columbus, Kentucky.  Grant and his men went ashore on the Missouri side and marched overland to Belmont.  Grant succeeded in surprising and over-powering the Confederates[5], but they were quickly reorganized and reinforced by Major General Leonidas Polk.  Grants victory was short lived as Polk endeavored to cut off Grant’s withdrawal.  It was only through the gunboats that Grant and the Union survivors made good their escape[6].

River gunships were effective, but they could not aggress rebel fortifications.  This mission would fall to the semi-ironclad ships ordered by Rodgers, who was replaced by Flag Officer[7] Andrew Hull Foote, U. S. Navy.  Foote is remembered as an aggressive officer who, along with Grant, combined their forces to attack and defeat Fort Henry.  There could be no question among Confederate officers that they had no answer to the Navy’s riverine warfare strategy.

Damn the Torpedoes

As the Mississippi River Flotilla steadily beat the CSA Army and Navy into submission, Flag Officer David Glasgow Farragut[8] prepared for service in the Gulf of Mexico.  During his assault of New Orleans, Farragut moved his entire fleet up the Mississippi River to contest the heavy guns at Fort Jackson and Fort St. Philips.  During the five-day bombardment, Farragut employed a mortar flotilla built especially for riverine operations.  The rebels put up an exceptional defense of New Orleans but were eventually overpowered by Farragut’s relentless assault and the threat of Union guns over New Orleans’ levees convinced the citizens to submit to Union authority.  What made Farragut’s victory sweet was that New Orleans was the only southern city with a chance of matching the Union’s overwhelming riverine forces.

Meanwhile, behind Foote’s gunboats, one catastrophe after another descended upon the Confederates, whose armies could not match the Union advantages in riverine operations, which were expanded into the Tennessee River and down and across the state of Mississippi.  Rather than arteries of life for the Confederacy, they became highways of death.  Advancing behind the gunboats, Grant’s army cut off western Tennessee.  More than any other factor, gunboats were the deciding factor at the Battle of Shiloh.

From New Orleans, Farragut’s heavy ships, while suffering much damage in the restricted and turbulent Mississippi, forged ahead to Vicksburg, a mighty fortress with batteries situated high on the bluff where Farragut’s guns could not effectively reach.  And, with Confederate forces numbering around 33,000, it would take more than Farragut’s 3,500 men to defeat that fortress.  Eventually, after a siege lasting a year, Vicksburg did fall to Grant’s army of  77,000 men.  Confederate casualties numbered 32,687 (3,202 killed, wounded, or missing in action, 29,495 surrendered).

Thus far, the Navy demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of naval warfare on inland waters.  The Navy’s ability to control the sea made riverine warfare possible.  The Navy’s exercise of its control made riverine warfare flexible.  Seagoing ships were adapted to fight in lakes and rivers to oppose shore batteries.  The Navy learned not only how to build riverine vessels, it learned how to fight them through an appreciation for local environments and conditions and devising appropriate circumstantial responses.

In 1898, the U. S. Navy-Marine Corps was ready for the Spanish-American War.  The U. S. Army was not.  A few years later, the Navy dusted off the lessons it learned from previous periods and addressed head-on the challenges associated with the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion.  In the Philippines, riverine warfare facilitated an end to the violence.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, a flotilla of shallow draft gunboats protected American life and property in war-torn China.  Along more than 1,500-miles of the Yangtze River, riverine patrols faced hostile Chinese war lords, snipers, and bandits; landing parties were kept on a moment’s notice for intervention or defense.  Natural dangers, such as swift currents, fast rising tides, and navigational obstacles were as formidable as any encountered by Commodores Barney, Perry, or Farragut.

Sources:

  1. Affield, W. Muddy Jungle Rivers: A River Assault Boat’s Cox’n’s Memory of Vietnam. Hawthorne Petal Press, 2012.
  2. S. Army Field Manual 31-75: Riverine Warfare. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Army, 1971
  3. Friedman, N. US Small Combatants.
  4. Fulton, W. B. Vietnam Studies: Riverine Operations, 1966-1969.  Washington: Department of the Army, 1985
  5. Joiner, G. Lincoln’s Brown Water Navy: The Mississippi Squadron.  Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.
  6. Marolda, E. J. Riverine Warfare: U. S. Navy Operations on Inland Waters.  Annapolis: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2006
  7. Rowlands, K. Riverine Warfare: Naval War College Review, Vol 71, No. 1. Art. 5., Annapolis: Naval War College, 2018

Endnotes:

[1] Mayor.

[2] Porter was a rather extraordinary naval officer from a prominent American family.  Porter began his naval career at age 10.  In 1824, after receiving a reprimand, Porter’s father resigned from the US Navy and accepted Mexico’s appointment as their navy’s commander-in-chief.  David Dixon Porter became a midshipman in the Mexican navy at age 12.  In 1829, Porter received an appointment to the USNA.  He was then 16 years old and a bit too salty for the culture of the Academy.  Were it not for the intervention of Commodore James Biddle, Porter would not have received his commission in the US Navy.  The second naval officer to achieve the rank of admiral, Porter served with distinction for over  62 years.

[3] There is no intent to suggest that the Confederate navy didn’t offer considerable challenges to the Union navy … only that it lacked the experience and traditions of the US Navy.  The CSA navy made a gallant attempt to offset its disadvantages with technological innovation (iron clads, submarines, torpedo boats, mines) and a stout defense of ports and harbors.  In February 1861, the CSA navy had a total 30 vessels; 14 of these were seaworthy.

[4] Mahan was a Navy captain (advanced to rear admiral after retirement) and historian who is generally regarded as the most influential American strategist of the 19th century.  He served as president of the Naval War College and became a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt.

[5] Grants men were so elated by their victory that they began celebrating and drinking strong beverages.  To regain control over his men, Grant ordered the rebel camp set afire.  Unbeknownst to Grant, wounded rebel soldiers were burned to death inside medical treatment tents.

[6] Grant suffered 607 casualties (120 KIA, 383 WIA, 104 captured or MIA), the Confederates 641 (105 KIA, 419 WIA, 117 captured or MIA).

[7] Flag Officer was an impromptu rank.  Foote was promoted to captain in 1861.  When assigned to command the Mississippi River Squadron, which technically came under the War Department, he was advanced to flag officer (equivalent to Commodore) in recognition of his authority and responsibility.  Foote was a heroic officer with long distinguished service.  In 1862, Foote was promoted to Rear Admiral.  He died unexpectedly while on active service in 1863.

[8] Farragut was the adopted brother of D. D. Porter.  He was the nation’s first rear admiral, first vice admiral, and first full admiral in the U. S. Navy.  In April 1862, Farragut captured New Orleans, which gave the Union control of the lower Mississippi.

The Better General

Union-Confederate FlagsDuring a recent holiday excursion across several states, my wife and I visited the National Battlefield Park at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  One who is interested in such things cannot help being overwhelmed by the events of this key battle during the American Civil War —155 years ago in July.  It may be an understatement to suggest that this battle was a disaster on many levels, all of which tend to demonstrate that General Robert E. Lee was not a great field commander of the Southern cause.  This is not an undue criticism —particularly in view of the human carnage suffered by the Army of Northern Virginia and the ultimate failure of General Lee to achieve his objectives, which were, at best, if not vague, unattainable.

Much has already been written about the Battle of Gettysburg by those far more qualified than I, so it is not my intent to describe it further here.  But I am intrigued by the relationship between General Lee and his principle lieutenant, James Longstreet.  Lee referred to Longstreet as his “old war horse.”

Robert E. Lee 001Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) (called Rob by his family) was the son of Henry Lee III[1] and Anne Hill Carter[2].  Lee was a top graduate of the U. S. Military Academy (USMA) (class of 1829) who was trained as an engineer and served in the United States Army for 32 years.  For most of that time, Lee performed the duties of a field engineer, not a combat commander.  As a military engineer, Lee was a builder and participated in numerous projects.  He was involved in the early construction of shore fortifications in Georgia (Fort Pulaski), with later assignments at Fort Monroe, Virginia, leading survey teams to Ohio and Michigan, and in helping to develop the St. Louis harbor area.

Lee (whose ancestors migrated to the American colonies from Shropshire, England in 1639) married Mary Anna Randolph Custis (1808-1873), a great-granddaughter of Mary Washington through her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis (and a step-great granddaughter of George Washington) and the only surviving child of George Washington Parke Custis.  The couple married on 30 June 1831, altogether siring seven children.

During the Mexican American War, Lee served as a staff officer under General Winfield Scott, and from every account, Lee provided invaluable advice to his field commander during the war.  Between 1846 and 1855, Lee received brevet promotions to major, lieutenant colonel, and colonel while retaining his permanent rank of captain in the corps of engineers.  Following the Mexican American War, Lee served at Fort Carroll in Baltimore, and with a survey team in Florida.  It was a challenging period in Lee’s life because of his wife’s debilitating illnesses.  Over time, with her husband’s frequent absences from her side, Mary became bitter toward him.  When Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee was appointed Superintendent of the USMA, Mary Lee did not join him at West Point in 1852.

In 1855, Lee received his first combat arms assignment when transferred to the cavalry and assigned as the deputy commander, 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Texas, serving under Albert Sidney Johnson[3] at Camp Cooper, Texas.  His father-in-law’s death in 1857 forced Lee to take a two-year absence from his military duties to attend to matters at home.  The family’s financial situation was dire, which forced Lee to manage the plantation by himself.  From every account, Lee’s management style (toward Negroes) was harsh, even for the time, and particularly so after several slaves rebelled against his authority.  It was an incident that led Lee to redistribute black families to various properties of his deceased father-in-law’s vast holdings.  Despite these “management” issues, Lee was a gradual emancipationist who not only provided for the manumission of his personal slaves in his will, but he actively supported the establishment of a free republic in Liberia for the transportation of blacks back to Africa.  In effect, Lee did not believe that America was a suitable place for Negroes.

In 1859, Lee returned to active service with the U. S. Army.  Two important events took place in 1859 and 1860; (then) Lieutenant Colonel Lee was involved in both.  In October 1959, John Brown led a band of abolitionists to Harpers Ferry, Virginia and seized the federal arsenal.  It was Brown’s intent to provoke a slave rebellion in western Virginia.  Lee commanded detachments of state militia and US Marines[4] (under Lieutenant Israel Greene) to suppress the rebellion and arrest its leaders.

In 1860, Lieutenant Colonel Lee assumed command of Fort Brown, Texas during the so-called Cortina War.  Texas Ranger John “Rip” Ford offered a complimentary description of Lee at the time: dignified, calm, and a quality leader.  When Texas seceded from the Union in February 1861, General Dave E. Twiggs[5] surrendered US forces (about 4,000 men, including Lee) to the Texans.  Paroled, Lee returned to Washington and assumed command of the 1st US Cavalry Regiment.  In April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee an appointment to Major General in the US Army, but Lee refused based on his belief that his first duty was to the state of Virginia, who seceded from the Union.  Scholars tell us that Lee believed secession was a grave mistake, but as a man of honor, Virginia’s secession prompted Lee’s resignation from the U. S. Army.  With this duty fulfilled, he returned home (present day Arlington National Cemetery).

Lee’s initial service as part of the Confederacy found him in command of two Confederate brigades (seven regiments) in western Virginia.  In this role, Lee demonstrated his lack of qualification to serve as a battlefield commander and was highly criticized for his defeat at the Battle of Cheat Mountain[6].  Nevertheless, Confederate President Jefferson Davis retained him in service to organize coastal defenses along the Carolina and Georgia seaboard.  In November 1861, Lee received appointment as Commander, Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  He successfully defended Savannah by blocking the Union’s attempt to occupy that city.  Lee’s plan for the defense of Savannah allowed the city to hold out against Union forces until the end of 1864.

George B. McClellanIn the Peninsula Campaign during the spring of 1862, the Union Army of the Potomac advanced on Richmond, Virginia from Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia.  Union General George B. McClellan forced Confederate General Joseph E. Johnson and the Army of Virginia back to a point just north and east of the Confederate capital.  When Johnson was wounded at Seven Pines, Lee assumed command and re-named his army the Army of Northern Virginia.  Lee did not inspire the confidence of the southern press, however.  After three weeks of shoring up his defensive positions around Richmond, Lee launched a series of audacious assaults against McClellan’s forces.  McClellan, unnerved, abandoned the Peninsula Campaign by withdrawing his army 25 miles to the lower James River.  One effect of McClellan’s timidity was President Lincoln’s adoption of relentless warfare.  Lee defeated General John Pope at the Second Battle of Manassas and moved the forward edge of the battle area to within twenty miles of the nation’s capital.

Robert E. Lee was fourteen years older than James Longstreet, but in several respects, they were remarkably similar personalities.  Both graduated from West Point at the age of 21, both men distinguished themselves during the Mexican American War (Lee, as a staff officer and Longstreet as a combat commander), and both men expressed reservations about the secession of southern states.  This may be the place where their similarities end.

James Longstreet 001James Longstreet, who went by the familiar name “Pete[7],” was born on 8 January 1821 in Edgefield, South Carolina (present day Edgefield County, Georgia).  He was the third son born to James Longstreet (1783-1833) (of Dutch descent) and Mary Ann Dent (1793-1855) (of English descent).  Mary was originally from New Jersey and Maryland.  The Longstreet’s owned a cotton plantation near present-day Gainesville, Georgia.  Long before Pete was born, the Longstreet name was anglicized from Langestraet.

Longstreet’s father wanted his son to pursue a military career and, recognizing limited educational opportunities in the rural setting, sent his son to live with uncle Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, in Augusta, Georgia.  James spent eight years on his uncle’s Westover Plantation.  While there, James attended the Academy of Richmond County.  James’ father died from cholera while visiting Augusta in 1833.  Afterward, Pete’s mother and other siblings relocated to Somerville, Alabama while he remained in the care of his uncle.

Unlike many of our modern boys, James was raised to appreciate and excel in manly activities.  He was an exceptional shot with the rifle and pistol, and strong swimmer, a skilled hunter, and an accomplished horseman.  During the time of his youth, Georgia was a frontier where the so-called southern traditions had not yet taken hold.  Socially, “Pete” was rough around the edges, known for his profanity, a preference for strong drink, and playing cards—a legacy passed to him from his uncle.  Pete expressed no interest in political matters, despite the prominence of his Uncle Augustus in local politics.  Augustus was a lawyer, a judge, a newspaper editor, a Methodist minister, and a staunch “states’ rights” partisan who, during the Nullification Crisis[8], supported the state government of South Carolina.  It is likely that James was influenced by his uncle’s beliefs even if he did not embrace them publicly.

In keeping with his brother’s wishes, Augustus attempted to obtain a congressional appointment for James to attend the USMA in 1837, but at the time, a vacancy for the congressional district in Georgia was unavailable.  Instead, James received an appointment to attend the USMA in 1838 through Representative Ruben Chapman, First Congressional District of Alabama (where his mother resided).  While Pete Longstreet was an accomplished athlete at the USMA, he was somewhat less gifted in academic pursuits.  He ranked in the bottom third of his class in each of his four years at the academy.  Nevertheless, Longstreet was significantly influenced in his training by Professor Dennis Hart Mahan[9], who stressed the importance of swift maneuvering, protection of interior lines, and strategic positioning rather than making attempts to destroy an opposing force.  Longstreet’s tactical and strategic methods during the Civil War reflect Mahan’s emphases.

Upon graduation, Longstreet was ranked 54th of 58 cadets in the class of 1842 and while he may not have set the bar in academic pursuits, he did establish important friendships with several individuals destined to become prominent military men in subsequent years, including Ulysses S. Grant.  In any case, Brevet Second Lieutenant James Longstreet proceeded to this first posting with the 4th US Infantry at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.  In Missouri, Longstreet’s commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel John Garland.  Second Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant joined the regiment a year later.

In 1844, Longstreet met the daughter of his commanding officer, Maria Louisa Garland, whom he would later marry.  At the same time, Ulysses S. Grant began courting Longstreet’s fourth cousin, Julia Dent, whom he married.  Some historians believe Longstreet was “best man” at Grant’s wedding … the point being that Longstreet and Grant had established a close relationship long before the Civil War that would, for a time, divide them.

Over the next two years, Longstreet served in Louisiana and Florida, finally receiving his appointment to regular Second Lieutenant in March 1945.  When the 4th Regiment joined the 3rd Regiment in South Texas, Longstreet was reunited with several of his friends[10].

Pete Longstreet served with distinction during the Mexican American War.  Assigned to the 8th US Regiment under Zachary Taylor in 1846, Longstreet participated in the battles of Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and the Battle of Monterrey.  During this last engagement, Longstreet (now commanding two companies of infantry), was assaulted by around two-hundred mounted lancers, which initially forced the American infantry to withdraw.  Longstreet, however, quickly reorganized his men and led a counterattack that resulted in the destruction of about half of the Mexican force.  He subsequently participated in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco, both of which were pivotal in seizing Mexico City.  The 8th Regiment was the only force in General William J. Worth’s division to reach the earthworks and it was Longstreet who carried the regimental colors to the Mexican positions.

Exposed to heavy enemy fire from above, Longstreet led his troops into a ditch seeking shelter.  Once there, however, Longstreet realized that the walls were so tall that the only way his men could scale the Mexican earthwork was by forming human ladders.  Eventually, the Americans prevailed, but only after fierce hand to hand fighting.  For this action, Longstreet was brevetted[11] to Captain.  Following the Battle of Molino del Rey, he was brevetted to the rank of major.  During the Battle of Chapultepec on 12 September 1847, Longstreet received a serious gunshot wound to his thigh.  Falling, he handed the regimental colors to a subordinate, (then) Lieutenant George E. Pickett, who continued the charge to the summit of the castle.  Longstreet was evacuated to Casa de Escandón, where he received treatment for his wound.  Slow to heal, Longstreet did not leave the Escandón home until December 1847.

Following the war, Pete served in several administrative assignments, including recruiting duty, as a pay master, and as a commissary officer[12].  Longstreet, typical of officers with distinguished combat service, preferred assignments in command of troops.  He requested assignment to the horse-mounted infantry[13], but his request was denied.  He did serve on frontier duty in Texas and fought several engagements against the Comanche and Mescalero Apache Indians.  In Texas, he served at Fort Scott near Fredericksburg and he commanded the garrison at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1856 and 1858[14].  In summary, Longstreet’s post-war military assignments were typical of most other “civil war” generals, north or south[15].

States Rights 001In 1860, the term “United States” was laughable.  There was nothing “united” about the states.  Sectionalism controlled the political debate, with such issues as States’ Rights and slavery occupying the top two tiers.  These were important issues of the day —emotional issues which lead to significant disunion within the states and in the Congress.  The question that confronted military officers was whether their loyalty belonged to the federal government, or to their home states[16].  Those who believed that states must always subordinate themselves to the will of the federal government elected to serve with the Union; those who believed, as Lee and Longstreet did, that their primary loyalty belonged to their home states, resigned their military commissions and returned home.  After the Battle of Fort Sumter, Longstreet agonized over the issue of secession.  At the time, he was serving as a paymaster in Albuquerque, New Mexico Territory.  Ultimately, he resigned his commission because, in his view, there was no other honorable course of action available to him.

Although born in South Carolina and raised in Georgia, Pete Longstreet offered his services to the State of Alabama, and did so for several reasons.  First, his appointment to the USMA came from Alabama.  Second, Alabama was the home of his mother, and third, as the senior-most officer from Alabama, he was in line to receive a prominent position within the Confederate army.  Longstreet resigned his US Army commission on 8 May 1861 and accepted a commission from the State of Alabama as a confederate lieutenant colonel.

Summoned to Richmond, Virginia by the President of the Confederacy, Longstreet met with Jefferson Davis on 22 June where he was offered advancement to brigadier general.  He accepted this appointment on 25 June and reported for duty under Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard[17] at Manassas junction.  There, Longstreet was assigned command of a brigade consisting of the 1st, 11th, and 17th Virginia infantry within the Confederate Army of the Potomac.  Longstreet immediately set about training his staff and regiments.  The Civil War began in earnest for Longstreet when Major General Irvin McDowell marched his army into Manassas with the expectation of bringing the rebellion to a quick end.  Longstreet’s Brigade saw its first action on 18 July at Blackburn’s Ford in a clash with Brigadier General Daniel Tyler.  When Tyler’s troops pushed the rebels back, Longstreet drew his sword and led his men forward to re-capture lost ground.  Elements of Colonel Jubal Early’s brigade rushed forward to reinforce Longstreet, but inexperienced and poorly trained riflemen fired into the backs of Longstreet’s Virginians.  Tyler withdrew from the field because his orders were to avoid a major battle with Confederate forces.

Northern forces believed they were preserving the union, but in the minds of the Confederates, they were defending their homes from “Yankee aggression.”  In these early days, Confederate forces waged a defensive strategy, one that worked for them during the first two years of the war.  One after another, Union incursions were defeated by rebels who were defending their homeland.  This, Longstreet believed, was the morally correct strategy.

In May 1863, Longstreet was a lieutenant general commanding the 1st Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.  In this capacity, Longstreet was Lee’s deputy commander, with whom he was at odds in the matter of invading northern territories.  Longstreet supported the defense of Confederate states; he did not support the invasion of Union states or territories.  Moreover, Longstreet knew (as Lee should have known) that the Confederate army could not realistically expect success against its Union opponent.   The US Army had far greater access to recruitment (replacements), armaments, mobility, and logistical support to field armies.

George Meade 001
Union Commander at Gettysburg George Meade

Upon arriving at Gettysburg, Lieutenant General Longstreet was not surprised to find an army twice as large as his own.  What did surprise him was General Lee’s stubborn insistence that a battle be waged there.  It caused him to argue strenuously with Lee to withdraw his army and find a terrain more suitable for a battle that favored the Confederates.  Lee could not be persuaded.  Worse, Lee was reckless in the deployment of his three corps.  In giving Brigadier General J. E. B. Stuart wide latitude in his ranging activities, Lee had no one to blame but himself for Stuart’s absence until 2 July 1863.  Lee wanted a victory at Gettysburg, and he wanted it immediately.  In trying to achieve it, however, Lee made battlefield decisions without full knowledge of the strength or disposition of his enemy.

Having lost the argument for withdrawal, Longstreet urged Lee to allow him to aggress the high ground on the Union left.  Lee again denied Longstreet’s request, ordering instead a frontal attack into the center of the Union line, which Lee believed was lightly defended.  For Longstreet’s Corps to arrive at that position, however (from the far-right flank of the Confederate line), it demanded a series of oblique movements across an open field of nearly one mile to the Union defenses.  It took a long time for those men to execute that assault, but worse than this, Longstreet’s hour long artillery preparatory fires directed toward the Union center made his intentions known to the George Meade, the Union commander.  While federal artillery answered Longstreet in counter-battery fire, Meade quickly reinforced the center line with infantry and short canister artillery.

Much has been written about the Battle of Gettysburg, evaluated in retrospect by men endowed with 20-20 vision.  Commanders make mistakes, of course —after all, they are mere human beings.  Lee’s invasion of the north had serious consequences not only for the men who fought at Gettysburg, but also for the war, which raged for another two years.  Having invaded the north, there was no other way for the war to end except by the unconditional surrender of the Confederacy.  We must wonder how the war might have ended had Longstreet, rather than Lee, been appointed as General of the Army of Northern Virginia.

In fairness, Robert E. Lee was a very ill man from around late 1862 when he suffered at least one heart attack (some suggest as many as five).  On this basis alone, Lee should have resigned his commission.  If not that, then the Confederate administration should have replaced him with someone healthier and who had a better understanding of military strategy.  There is no question that, considering Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, “Old Pete” was the better general.  He was an exceptional field commander; he would not have sought a confrontation on northern territory; he would not have squandered the lives of so many men in a campaign that could not have been won.

Lee succumbed to his heart disease in 1870.  Subsequently, Lee became a deity in the defeated south.  He was worshipped by his men, whom he wasted in horrifically large numbers, by those who refused to relinquish the southern cause, even for the next one hundred years, and by those who turned their vitriol upon the superior field commander: James Longstreet.  Longstreet became the target of southern venom because of his post-war support for the rights of black Americans.  His critics were former soldiers, statesmen, and members of the southern press who ignored the fact that Pete Longstreet worked hard on behalf of Civil War veterans (north and south) throughout the Reconstruction Era.  They were small-minded fellows (Democrats) who criticized Longstreet for joining the Republican Party, for endorsing Ulysses S. Grant for the presidency (in 1868), and for taking on government roles during and after Reconstruction.

No general officer in our country’s history warrants deification … not Washington, Taylor, Lee, Longstreet, or even more recently, “Mad Dog” Mattis.  These men accepted commissions and the heavy burden of command.  They owed no loyalty to their political masters, but the were obligated to their purpose, which in this tale, was either defending and protecting the Constitution of the United States, or their solemn commitment to protect their homeland.  Equally important, they owed their loyalty to the men whom they sent into harm’s way.  There can be no greater calling for a military officer than to lead men into a great battle —and lead them well.

If Robert E. Lee has a legacy, it is that he violated the trust and confidence placed in him to defend the homeland, he failed to attend to the welfare of his men and preserve them, as much as possible, in the crucible of war.

Sources:

  1. Coddington, E. B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command.  Simon & Schuster, 1968.
  2. Connolly, T. L. The Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society. 1978.
  3. Knudsen, H. M. General James Longstreet: The Confederacy’s Most Modern General.  Word Association Publishing, 2007.
  4. Longstreet, J. From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America.  Lippencott Publishing, 1896.
  5. Lynch, J. D. Robert E. Lee, or, Heroes of the South.  A Poem.
  6. Railton, B. The Saturday Evening Post, 2 May 2019: Considering History: Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and the Truths of Civil War Memory.
  7. Sawyer, G.  James Longstreet: Before Manassas and After Appomattox.  Sawyer House, 2005.

Endnotes:

[1] Also known as “Light Horse Harry Lee,” a distinguished Revolutionary War major general.  Subsequent to his military service, economic downturns financially ruined Henry who ultimately spent a year of his life in debtor’s prison.  When Harry Lee opposed the War of 1812, he was beaten nearly senseless by a mob of Democrats from Baltimore.  The result of these injuries forced Lee into convalescence, but he never fully recovered.  He died on 25 March 1818 while in the care of Louisa Greene, the daughter of Nathaniel Greene, at Cumberland, Georgia.

[2] Daughter of Charles Carter (1732-1808), the fifth-generation owner of Shirley Plantation and a distinguished family of Tidewater, Virginia.

[3] Albert Sydney Johnson (1803-1862) served as a general officer in three separate armies: the Texian Army, the U. S. Army, and the Confederate States Army.  In a career spanning 34 years, Johnson was a seasoned combat officer with service in the Black Hawk War, the Texas War of Independence, the Mexican American War, the Utah War, and the American Civil War.  Despite his prowess as a field commander, statues of Johnson have been removed in Texas and schools named in his honor were renamed in 2018.  If there is any shame in Texas history, this is it.

[4] When Secretary of War John B. Floyd learned of the rebellion, the Virginian may have had visions of Haitian rebellion in the early 1800s and Nat Turner’s rebellion and their resulting carnage of whites.  Floyd ordered a message delivered to Lee, who at the time, was at home in Arlington, Virginia, which detailed Lee to assume command of the US reaction forces.  President James Buchanan was dissatisfied with Floyd’s re-action and urged him to rush troops to Harpers Ferry.  Apparently, an artillery battery was already en route from Fort Monroe to Baltimore, but their movement was taking too long.  To assist, Secretary of the Navy Isaac Toucey offered a detachment of Marines from the Washington Navy Yard.  Ultimately, an expedition of fifty Marines proceeded to Harpers Ferry to help quell the disturbance.  After commanding his force to “charge” the arsenal, the fight lasted less than five minutes.  Lee was complimentary of Lieutenant Greene and his Marines during this episode.

[5] See also, David Emanuel Twiggs.

[6] Fought between 12-15 September 1861 in Pocahontas and Randolph counties, Virginia (present day, West Virginia).  Lee attempted to surround the Union garrison atop Cheat Mountain, but the attack was never launched due to faulty intelligence and poor communications among the rebel forces, inadequate supplies, and poor weather.

[7] Nicknamed by his father because of his rock-like character.

[8] Nullification was a political argument, taken directly from the Bill of Rights, which held that states were entitled to nullify any federal law that infringed on the rights of states.  The issue as it first surfaced in the early 1790s eventually led to the formation of political parties in the United States, and this in turn polarized the nullification debate between those who believed in the supremacy of the federal government over the states, and those who believed that the federal government could not impose laws upon the states that violated the Tenth Amendment of the US Bill of Rights; specifically, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” 

[9] Mahan’s books became standard textbooks used in military academies throughout the western world through the First World War.  His lectures and writings about field strategy and fortification were instrumental during the Civil War, used by officers on both sides of the conflict.  From Mahan, Longstreet learned the importance of topography and the use of terrain to achieve advantages in combat.  Mahan’s son was Alfred Thayer Mahan, who became an important influence in the use of naval warfare in the emerging United States after 1877.

[10] The placement of US military units in Texas in 1844-1845 suggests that the United States anticipated a war with Mexico resulting from the admittance of Texas into the Union, which in fact broke out in 1846.

[11] Brevet promotions were temporary advancements in rank (without pay increases) in recognition of courage in the face of the enemy.

[12] A commissary officer was responsible for the procurement and distribution of food for troops and animals.  While not a particularly exciting duty, it was an experience that gave Longstreet an appreciation for the complexities of logistical support of front-line troops.

[13] Prior to the Civil War, the US Army did not have formal “cavalry” units.  Called dragoons, horse-mounted units were simply mobile infantry troops tactically employed as riflemen (although the distinction between the two may be slight).

[14] In 1858, Longstreet visited his friend Ulysses Grant in St. Louis, Missouri.  By this time, Grant had left the Army to pursue business interests, which were largely unsuccessful.  Longstreet found his friend extremely poor, depressed, and frequently inebriated.

[15] Our knowledge of Longstreet’s activities between 1848-1861 are limited by the fact that he was not known as a diarist and what papers he might have had were destroyed in a house fire in 1889.

[16] For many southern officers, the question was never about maintaining their loyalty to the US Constitution; it was rather a belief that the federal government had violated the Constitution in the matter of states’ rights.

[17] Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard (1818-1893) was the first prominent Confederate general officer of the American Civil War.  Beauregard served with distinction and gallantry during the Mexican American War and the Civil War.  He was raised in a prominent Creole family in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, finished second in his class at the US Military Academy, became an accomplished military engineer, and in 1861 served as the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He was dismissed from this assignment after only a few days because of his vocal sympathy for the Southern cause.  He subsequently resigned his commission from the U. S. Army and offered his services to the Confederacy.  Beauregard was the first general officer appointed by the Confederacy and was placed in command of the defenses of Charleston, South Carolina.  It was Beauregard who ordered the first shots of the Civil War resulting in the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861.  At Manassas, he served as second in command to General Joseph E. Johnson.

Divided Nation – Divided Corps

EGA 1850-002In the first few years following the War of 1812, the United States Marine Corps fell into a period of institutional malaise.  There were two reasons for this: first, the United States government was unwilling to fund a corps of Marines in larger numbers than needed for service aboard ships of the U. S. Navy.  From the outset, the US Marine Corps has always received scant funding, staffing, and equipment.   Second, as was the custom in those days, Marine Corps officers were appointed and commissioned through political patronage.  The sons of wealthy or politically connected families received commissions; it did not matter whether these appointees were good leaders or even skilled in the art and science of armed warfare.  Lacking quality leadership and innovation, the Marine Corps simply “existed.”  Political patronage continues to exist in the selection of candidates for the United States’ military and naval academies; those wishing to attend either of these must be nominated of a member of Congress.

In 1820, Archibald Henderson was appointed as the Marine Corps’ fifth commandant.  He remained in this position for 38 years—so long, in fact, that he became convinced that the Marine Corps belonged to him.  He willed the Marine Corps to his son, but of course, the will didn’t stand up in court.  During Henderson’s tenure, however, the Marine Corps undertook expeditionary missions in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Key West, in West Africa, the Falkland Islands, Sumatra, and against the Seminole Indians as part of the Seminole Indian [1] and Creek Indian Wars [2].

Andrew Jackson was not a fan of the Marine Corps, but Commandant Henderson was able to thwart Jackson’s attempt to disband the Marine Corps and combine it with the U. S. Army.  In 1834, congress passed the Act for the Better Organization of the Marine Corps.  The Act stipulated that the Marine Corps was an integral part of the Department of the Navy.  Jackson’s attempt was the first of many challenges to the Marine Corps as part of the United States Armed Forces.  In any case, Archibald Henderson personally led two battalions of his Marines (half of the entire Marine Corps back then) in the Seminole War (1835).  In 1846, US Marines participated in the Mexican American War (1846-48) and made their famed assault on the Chapultepec Palace, later celebrated in the Marine Corps Hymn.

Henderson’s tenure as Commandant ended with his death in 1859 (aged 75 years).  In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States and civil war loomed on the near horizon.  After Lincoln’s inauguration, southern states began to secede from the union.  Many officers of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps were from southern states; out of a sense of duty to their home states, officers began to resign their commissions.  About one-third of the Marine Corps’ commissioned officer strength resigned and accepted commissions in the Confederate States of America.  Essentially, this large migration of officers left the US Marine Corps with mediocre officers.  A battalion of Marine recruits, having been thrown into the First Battle of Manassas (Virginia) in 1861 were soundly defeated by rebel forces.

USMC Infantry 1862Union Marines performed blockade duties, some sea-based amphibious operations, and traditional roles while afloat.  US Marines also participated in the assault and occupation of New Orleans and Baton Rouge.  These were signal events that enabled the union to gain control of the lower Mississippi River and denied the CSA a viable base of operations on the Gulf Coast.  In any case, poor leadership had a negative impact on the morale of serving Marines.  Few officers were interested in commanding Marine detachments or battalions; they were content to secure administrative positions.  In total, the USMC strength in 1861 was 93 officers and 3,074 enlisted men.  President Lincoln authorized an additional 1,000 enlisted men, but a shortage of funding hindered the recruiting effort.  Marine recruits were not offered recruitment bonuses (as in the Army and Navy), their length of enlistment was longer, and they earned $3.00 less pay each month.

The U. S. Marine Corps did not enjoy the confidence of the Congress in 1863 and congress proposed transferring the Marines to Army control.  The draft resolution was defeated when Colonel Commandant John Harris [3] died in office, the Secretary of the Navy forced several officers to resign or retire, and Major Jacob Zeilin [4] was named to replace Harris.  Zeilin, although 59-years old at the time, was a combat veteran with a good reputation, whose duties were executed well enough to earn him the first Marine Corps commission to general (flag rank) officer.  Still, neither Harris nor Zeilin considered the employment of Marines as an amphibious assault force.

Despite poor leadership among the officers, seventeen enlisted Marines received the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry during the Civil War.  Thirteen of these men served as noncommissioned officers and performed the duties of gun captain or gun-division commander.  By the end of 1864, the recruitment of Marines improved with changes to conscription laws and additional funds to pay a recruiting bounty.  During the war, 148 Marines were killed in action; 312 additional men perished from other causes (illness/accident).

CSMC Uniform 1862The Confederate States Marine Corps (CSMC) was established on 16 March 1861 with an authorized strength of 46 officers and 944 enlisted men.  The actual strength of the CSMC never came close to its authorized strength.  In 1864, the total strength of the CSMC was 539 officers and men.  Heading the CSMC as Colonel Commandant Lloyd J. Beale, who previously served the US Army as its paymaster.  He had no experience as a Marine, which meant that his subordinate officers, who were Marines, had little regard for his leadership ability.  He was simply a bureaucrat, and everyone treated him as such.

The CSMC was modeled after the USMC, but there were important differences.  In the south, Marine companies were structured as permanent organizations.  The fife was replaced by the bugle, and CSMC uniforms were designed somewhat similar to those of the Royal Marines.

Confederate Marines guarded naval stations at Mobile, Savannah, Charleston, Richmond, and Wilmington and manned naval shore batteries at Pensacola, Hilton Head, Fort Fisher, and Drewery’s Bluff.  Sea-going detachments served aboard Confederate ships, including the CSS Virginia (Merrimack) in 1861, and as part of the naval brigade at the Battle of Saylor’s Creek.  The Confederate Marines did perform well-enough, but as with their Union counterpart, the officer corps was plagued with laziness and paltry bickering over such things as seniority, shore duty, and administrative (staff) assignments.  The enlisted men, as has become a Marine Corps tradition, observed this petty behavior, shrugged their shoulders or rolled their eyes, and went on with their duties.

The Confederate States of America ceased to exist with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House.  In the post-war period, U. S. Marines began a period of introspection about the roles and missions suitable for a small corps of Marines.  The Navy’s transition from sail to steam negated the need for Marine sharpshooters aboard ship.  Without masts and rigging, there was no place for Marines to perch.  What evolved was an amphibious role for Marines during interventions and incursions to protect American lives and property.

In 1867, Marines took part in a punitive expedition to Formosa [5] (Taiwan).  A few years later in 1871, Marines participated in a diplomatic expedition to Korea —its purpose to support the American delegation to Korea, ascertain the fate of the merchant ship General Sherman, and to sign a treaty assuring aid to distressed US merchant sailors.  When the Koreans attacked US Navy ships, the diplomatic effort turned into a punitive one.  In the subsequent battle of Ganghwa, which involved 500 sailors and 100 Marines, nine sailors and six Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor for their intrepidity in armed conflict.  Neither of these two expeditions were overwhelmingly successful, but the action did manage to start a conversation within the Navy and Marine Corps about amphibious warfare.

USMC Sgt 1890Then, in October 1873, a diplomatic dispute involving the United States, United Kingdom, and Spain caused concern in the United States about its readiness for war with a European power.  It is known as the Virginius Affair.  Virginius was a fast American-made trade ship hired by Cuban insurrectionists to land men and munitions in Cuba, to be used to attack the Spanish regime there.  The ship was captured by Spain, who declared that the men on board were “pirates” and Spain’s intention to execute them.  Many of these freebooters were American and British citizens.  Spain did in fact execute 53 of these men and only halted the process when the British government demanded it.  There was talk inside the US that the American government might declare war on Spain.  Eventually, the matter was resolved without resorting to arms, but the incident did set into motion a new (and henceforth, ongoing) role for the U. S. Marines.

In 1874, the US Navy and Marines conducted brigade sized landing exercises in Key West.  Additional training exercises were conducted on Gardiners Island in 1884, and Newport, Rhode Island in 1887.  Subsequently, in the 35-years between the end of the American Civil War and the end of the 19th century, Marines were engaged in 28 separate interventions.

Sources:

  1. Sullivan, D. M. The United States Marine Corps in the Civil War.  Four volumes, 1997-2000).  White Mane Publishing.
  2. Scharf, J. T. History of the Confederate States Navy from its Organization to the surrender of its last vessel.  Fairfax Press, 1977.
  3. Tyson, C. A. Marine Amphibious Landing in Korea, 1871.  Marine Corps History Division, Naval Historical Foundation, 2007.

Endnotes:

[1] There were three distinct wars: 1816-19, 1835-42, 1855-58.  In total, the Seminole Wars became the longest and most expensive Indian wars in US history.

[2] Also, Red Stick War, and Creek Civil War.

[3] Harris served as a US Marine for 50 years.  As commandant, his tasks were challenging.  He lost one-third of his officers at the beginning of the Civil War, was forced to give up a full battalion to augment the US Secret Service, and came to grips with the fact that with such a small force, there is little the Marine Corps could contribute to the Union effort.  Harris was more or less content to remain “out of sight” and comply with Navy Regulations as best as he was able.  Accordingly, US Marines did not play a major role in expeditions and amphibious operations during the Civil War.

[4] General Zeilin approved the design of the now-famous Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem of the U. S. Marine Corps (1868).  He is additionally credited with establishing many Marine Corps customs and traditions that remain with the Corps to this very day, including the Marine Corps Hymn, the officer’s evening dress uniform, and adoption of the Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fidelis.”

[5] When the bark Rover was wrecked and its crew came ashore in Formosa, natives attacked and massacred them.  The US Navy landed a company of sailors and Marines to avenge this insult to American soverignty, but the enemy employed guerrilla tactics, which forced the landing force back to their ships.  The lesson learned as a result was that Marines would have to learn how to think outside of the box.

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 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.”

Henry Clay Cochrane

Henry Cochrane is another of the so-called Old Breed Marines: he served during the Civil War.  Described as a somewhat cantankerous fellow, he is known for his professionalism, adherence to regulations, and tempered protocol.  I write of the tempered protocol because, in his adherence to regulations and military propriety, Cochrane was often critical of senior officers and known to be a stickler for detail.  Much of this, no doubt, stems from the fact that on several occasions during the war, he was assigned as a judge advocate prosecuting cases against senior officers.

It is probably fair to say that Cochrane’s long service was nothing if not controversial, beginning even at the very outset of his 45 years of active duty.  Relying upon his father’s political connections, Cochrane applied for a commission in the U. S. Marine Corps in 1861.  Unhappily, regulations at that time prohibited the commissioning of anyone under the age of 20 years; Cochrane was only 18 years old at the time.  No sooner had his commission come through, the Commandant of the Marine Corps rescinded it.  Cochrane immediately applied to the Secretary of the Navy for an appointment—and received one to Master’s Mate[1].  While serving in the Navy, Cochrane participated in the following Civil War engagements: the DuPont Expedition, Battle of Port Royal, S.C., action with Thunderbolt Battery, Warsaw Sound, Ga., blockade of the ports and harbors at Charleston and Savannah, S.C., expeditions to Cumberland, Ga. and St. John’s River, Fla., and the capture of Fernandina and Jacksonville, Fla.

Having served nearly two years at sea, Cochrane gained important insight into the workings of the U. S. Navy and U. S. Marine Corps.  Upon reaching his 20th birthday, Cochrane again applied to the Marine Corps for a commission, which was approved —and on 23 May 1863, he found himself standing just outside the Marine Barracks, 8th and I Streets in Washington DC.

In mid-November 1863, Lieutenant Cochrane was assigned to accompany the United States Marine Corps Band to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; soon after the presidential party boarded the train, Cochrane found himself sitting adjacent to the President of the United States.  In a work titled “With Lincoln to Gettysburg,” Cochrane described the beginning of his journey in this way:

“The last car was a kind of president’s or director’s car with about one-third of the rear partitioned off into a room with the seats around it, and in this room, I found myself seated vis-a-vis to the President” Cochrane.  The rest of the car was furnished in the usual manner.  I happened to have bought a New York Herald before leaving and, observing that Mr. Lincoln was without a paper, offered it to him.  He took it and thanked me, saying ‘I like to see what they say about us,’ meaning himself and the generals in the field.  The news that morning was not particularly exciting, being about Burnside at Knoxville, Sherman at Chattanooga, and Meade on the Rapidau, all, however, expecting trouble.  He read for a little while and then began to laugh at some wild guesses of the paper about pending movements.  He laughed very heartily and it was pleasant to see his sad face lighted up.  He was looking very badly at that particular time, being sallow, sunken-eyed, thin, care-worn and very quiet[2].  After a while he returned the paper and began to talk, remarking among other things that when he had first passed over that road on his way to Congress in 1847 …”

During the Civil War, Cochrane served both at sea and ashore; he was with Admiral Farragut at Mobile Bay.  In a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Admiral Farragut commended Cochrane for his coolness under fire.  Even during these early days of service, however, Cochrane was a stickler for military correctness in all things: administration, operations, and proper behavior from officers.  Not everyone welcomed Cochrane’s criticism, particularly those who were senior in rank or grade —and especially not anyone serving as Cochrane’s commanding officer.  As it turns out, however, General Cochrane (advanced to Brigadier General after his retirement) was one of the more insightful officers ever to wear the uniform of a United States Marine.

After the Civil War, Cochrane was promoted to first lieutenant and continued his sea service in the uniform of a U. S. Marine.  In 1869, Cochrane was sailing aboard the USS Jamestown in the South Pacific.  His commanding officer was Commander William Truxton.  In a magazine series titled Adventures of Henry Clay Cochrane, Cochrane was supposedly disagreeable with the comportment of Truxton.  The magazine reported, “With unfailing regularity, the captain of the Jamestown turned out all hands on the first Tuesday of each month and read to them the articles of war.  For Cochrane, his commanding officer was a cross to bear from the very first day.  Cochrane believed Truxton to be a poor seaman, for as each time the ship’s bearings were taken, a great surprise was shown when it was learned where the ship really was.  Furthermore, the captain frequently appeared upon the deck in his bedroom slippers and an old frock coat, a practice that sent the fastidious Cochrane into fits of anger.”

Until the turn of the century, Marine Corps service took the form of duty either at Marine Barracks or sea duty.  The normal complement of a shipboard Marine detachment most often consisted of one officer and fifteen enlisted men.  From this number, Marines served as orderlies to the ship’s captain, performed ceremonies, crewed ship’s main guns, and made up an integral part of the landing party.  Marines also enforced order among the bluejackets, much to the consternation of naval officers, who viewed the Marines as too strict.

Life aboard ship was miserable for both Marines and sailors.  Their food was of poor quality and lacking in proper nourishment—which was particularly true between ports of call.  Fresh water was strictly rationed. Ship’s officers fared little better than the enlisted men.  Quarters for all were cramped and damp, particularly after the ship experienced heavy seas.  Cochrane preferred to sleep on deck in a hammock, where he hoped to catch what cool air there was available.

For Marines and sailors alike, duty at sea was an endless repetition of drill.  Cochrane divided the ship’s landing party into four companies; he assigned six Marines to one gun.  Drill for Marines included artillery support and drills that focused on training as skirmishers.  He exercised the men in repelling boarders.

At sea, it was a major task to keep weapons free from the effects of the salt water and in this, Cochrane’s Marines found him unforgiving when even the slightest touch of rust was found on any weapon in their charge.  In addition to rifle training, he instructed his Marines in the finer points of the Sharps and Hawken carbines.  Cochrane relied upon Upton’s Infantry Tactics —the Landing Party Manual of the day; these instructions occurred each day at sea, particularly in elements pertaining to artillery doctrine[3].

The Jamestown’s voyage lasted three years, so if we are to believe the aforementioned magazine article, Cochrane was likely to experience many fits of anger.  Cochrane even wrote at one point that he was ready to quit the Marines after the journey, but, in spite of his frustrations, he was able to hold on for another 34 years.

Cochrane’s journeys also took him to the Middle East, where there was an uprising in Egypt, to Moscow as an American representative at the coronation of Czar Alexander III, as well as service as ashore at Guantanamo Bay in the Spanish-American War at the turn of the century.  He also commanded Marines representing the U.S. at the Universal Exposition in Paris to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. His final overseas assignment was as commander of the Marine forces in the U.S. relief expedition to China in the Boxer Rebellion.

Having achieved the rank of Colonel, Cochrane was placed on the retired list on March 10, 1905, the 42nd anniversary of his Marine Corps commission.  He and his wife returned home to Chester, Pennsylvania where he remained active in public speaking and civic activities.  On April 13, 1911, the President of the United States appointed Cochrane a brigadier general.  Cochrane died April 27, 1913, when he apparently suffered a heart attack at his residence.

Nevertheless, Henry’s retirement was not the end of the Cochrane military legacy. His son, Edward Lull Cochrane, achieved Vice Admiral before retiring in 1947.  Grandsons, Edward Lull Cochrane Jr. and Richard Lull Cochrane each completed service in the U. S. Navy as captains, with Richard surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  It is interesting to note that each of his grandsons commanded U. S. Navy combat ships named in honor of fallen Marines.

For an excellent read about General Cochrane, I recommend a book titled Smart and Faithful Force by Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) James Holden Rhodes, USMC (Retired) (available at Amazon.com).

Notes:

[1] At the time of his appointment in 1861, a Master’s Mate was an experienced seaman (which makes one wonder how Cochrane received his appointment); after the Civil War, the rating Master’s Mate changed simply to “Mate.”  Apparently, Cochrane’s duties were to carry out the wishes of his commanding officer.  Aboard the USS Pembina (a gunboat), Cochrane supervised two sections of deck guns during several engagements with Confederate forces.

[2] Modern historians attempt to explain Lincoln’s sickly appearance in this way: he was suffering from the Small Pox virus known as variola major; beyond this, President Lincoln was well-aware of the fact that the people of Pennsylvania were not among his staunchest supporters.  Many Pennsylvanians petitioned Harrisburg to impede black migration; they were worried about the influx of Negroes to their state.  There was a concerted effort by Democrats to declare Lincoln’s draft emancipation order as unconstitutional.  Pennsylvania Democrats saw Lincoln as a tyrant; an enemy of state’s rights.  No doubt these were matters that weighed heavily on President Lincoln’s mind.

[3] Much of the debate over just how the United States would take its proper place in the greater world revolved around a pair of extraordinary thinkers —one from the Navy and one from the Army— whose proposals would influence American strategy and tactics for decades to follow.  Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan’s theories helped lead to the creation of so-called big gun navies as tools of nationalism; Colonel Emory Upton had a tremendous influence on arms and tactics for the American infantry.  A brevet major general by age 25, Stephen Ambrose described Upton as “the epitome of a professional soldier;” a man who was as much at home in the field as Admiral Mahan was afloat.  Everywhere he went, Upton displayed immense courage and devised startling new tactics, sometimes on the battlefield itself.

Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

How people refer to events in their own time tells us quite a lot about their thinking, or how they viewed events unfolding around them. For example, no one in 1861 used the term Civil War to describe the bitter rivalries between North and South. If one happened to live in the North, the conflict became The War of Rebellion. Living in the American south, below the so-called Mason-Dixon line, it became The War of Northern Aggression. Both terms are accurate, from a historic point of view.

Artillery atop Drewry's Bluff
Artillery atop Drewry’s Bluff

The American Civil War was a time when brothers faced off, when homeland loyalty prompted men attending the same service academies to oppose one another in lethal combat. Nowhere is this horrible circumstance better represented than at the Battle of Gettysburg: here, Union Major General Winfield Scott Hancock opposed his long time friend, Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead, who was wounded during Pickett’s Charge and died soon after.

At the outbreak of the war, the U. S. Marine Corps had 63 officers; 16 of these officers resigned their commissions and joined the Confederate States Marine Corps (CSMC), including Major Henry B. Tyler who served as Adjutant of the Marine Corps. During this time, Marine Corps guard detachments served aboard naval shipping. They manned the ships’ guns, and they participated in limited riverine operations and amphibious assaults. It was inescapable that Marines would face someone he had met or served with before the war.

The first engagement was bloodless, a duel at Ship Island in early July 1861. A second battle occurred near Pensacola, Florida in October —this time with significant losses on both sides. The next battle would involve some of the most intense fighting anyone had seen up to that time; it occurred at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff on 15 May 1862.

Corporal Mackie aboard USS Galena 1862 (Waterhouse Collection)
Corporal Mackie aboard USS Galena 1862 (Waterhouse Collection)

Seven miles south of Richmond, Virginia, Corporal John F. Mackie, and the 12 Marines under his command aboard the USS Galena became engaged in a bitter duel with two companies of Confederate Marines sniping from the banks of the James River. Confederates directed their artillery from shore batteries atop Drewry’s Bluff, which towered 34 meters in elevation. The barrage directed against the Union squadron lasted for a little more than three hours. Eight and 10-inch artillery tore into the sides of the Union ships, sending shrapnel and splinters into the crew.

Dispersed throughout the five ships of the Union squadron, U.S. Marines fought desperately alongside their Navy counterparts, working the guns, resolutely bracketing Confederate positions all the while lethal bombs burst over their heads. The circumstances of mounting casualties among the crew forced Marines to set down their muskets and help man naval artillery.

Navy Medal of Honor, 1862
Navy Medal of Honor, 1862

A shot from Galena’s Parrot Rifle struck the Confederate artillery, destroying three guns and driving the Confederate troops from their field pieces —including Captain Robert Tansill, CSMC, who formerly served 28 years as a U. S. Marine officer. Galena prepared to fire for effect, but her successes made her a prime target for Confederate counter-battery fire; she suffered 45 hits. Captain John D. Simms, CSMC (also a former a U. S. Marine Corps officer), directed withering musket and rifle fire upon the Galena’s crew and accompanying ships, wounding the officers commanding USS Aroostook and USS Port Royal.

A 10-inch shot crashed into the Galena, killing or grievously wounding the entire aft division. When the smoke cleared, Corporal John Mackie rallied his men, led them forward, and rendered aid and protection to the wounded crewmen. After clearing the deck of the dead, wounded, and debris, Mackie and his Marines manned Galena’s Parrot Rifle until the end of the fight. In recognition of his remarkable coolness and leadership under intense enemy fire, Corporal Mackie became the first U. S. Marine recipient of the Medal of Honor.

The battle forced the squadron to withdraw. Drewry’s Bluff subsequently served as headquarters of the Confederate Marine Corps until the end of the War. Confederates referred to Drewry’s Bluff (also Fort Drewry) as the Gibraltar of the South.

 

Notes:

(1) Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A military history of the civil war (2001)