The act of mutiny occurs whenever a group of people (especially soldiers or sailors) refuses to obey orders and (or) attempts to take control away from their lawfully appointed officers or senior NCOs. In all, there were 19 mutinies in the Royal Navy. Two of these occurred in 1797, known as the Spithead and Nore mutinies — the first in an increasing number of outbreaks of maritime radicalism in the so-called Atlantic passage. At the first, the Spithead mutiny was peaceful and successfully addressed common economic grievances. The Nore mutiny was just the opposite.
A Word About Marines
Historically, as a principal duty, marines serve as naval infantry. The word is French for “by sea,” which is probably why the French have always referred to English troops as marines. They always arrived by sea.
Initially, a ship’s crew assumed the tasks of marines at sea. They were, first, sailors. There was not much distinction between sailors and soldiers aboard ships because, for the most part, the crews of vessels fighting one another met in close combat, and it was a melee. Sailors had to know how to fight. But they also had to know how to fight once they reached their destinations.
In antiquity, Roman soldiers fought on Roman combat ships as marines. The Italians were the first to employ specially trained sailors to serve as naval infantry (c. 1200s). The chief magistrate of Venice assigned ten companies of these specialized troops to a naval squadron and sent them off to address some disagreement with the Byzantines. The mission went well for the Italians, and so they decided to retain such men and called them “sea infantry.” Soon after, the idea caught on with other countries. The Spanish Marine Corps, founded in 1537, is the world’s oldest (still-active) corps of marines. The Netherlands created its corps of marines in 1665. In most cases, though, modern marines are specially trained sailors.
The British Royal Marines were the first naval infantry who were NOT sailors. During the 1600s and 1700s, the Royal Navy would form regiments of marines by taking soldiers from the British Army and disbanding them when no longer needed on active service. In 1775, the American Congress formed Marine battalions modeled on the role of their British counterparts — to serve as naval infantry. Today, U.S. Marines are trained from the beginning of their commissions/enlistments to serve as naval infantry — although the Continental Congress stipulated in the recruitment of marines “that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea, when required.”
The employment of Marines as general handymen and orderlies for flag officers of the Navy is no innovation. So ingrained had this idea become by 1881 that a naval encyclopedia in that year defined the word “orderly” as “a Marine private detailed as a messenger for the commanding officer.” The admiral’s orderly, therefore, had to be a leatherneck — a bluejacket wouldn’t do. And it became the role of marines, not engaged in combat at sea, to preserve order aboard ship. In port, sentinel posts were established to prevent desertion — and at all times, marines kept an ear cocked for the faintest rumblings of mutiny.
Mutiny at sea was always problematic — and in 1797, what made it so was the fact that Great Britain was at war with Revolutionary France. The Royal Navy was a primary component of the war effort. There were also concerns among home offices — that the mutinies might be part of broader attempts at revolutionary sedition instigated by “troublemaking organizations,” such as the London Corresponding Society and the United Irishmen (see also: “Conclusion”).
Spithead was an anchorage near Portsmouth, and at anchor were sixteen ships under the command of Admiral Alexander Hood, Lord Bridport. No country has done a marvelous job caring for its Navy’s ships or the men who handle them, and the United Kingdom is no exception. And the men were not happy. Between 16 April to 15 May, the men of the channel fleet protested against the living conditions aboard ship, they demanded more pay for their services, better food, increased shore leave, and compensation for sickness and injury.
On 26 April, a supportive mutiny broke out on the additional 15 ships, each of which sent delegates to Spithead to participate in negotiations. It was probably about time for a review of pay accorded to the men of the sea. Their pay tables dated to 1658. The pay was still reasonable for those times — even through the Seven Years’ War. But in the last decades of the 18th century, nations experienced high inflation rates. Sailors with families to support were struggling to make do.
Another sore point for the Navy was the fact that, in recent years, the government granted pay increases to the British Army, to militia forces, and even to naval officers. But another issue affecting morale — and perhaps the Royal Navy’s budget- was its new practice of coppering the hulls of its warships. In 1761, coppering meant that combat ships no longer had to return to port as often to have their hulls scraped. The additional time at sea significantly altered the sea service rhythm, yet the Admiralty had made no adjustments. Senior officers were slow to grasp the difficulty of the deck-hands work. Impressment was a common practice suggesting that some of the crew served against their will.
Finally, in the war with France, the British Admiralty announced a new quota system known as the Quod. More than one clever politician discovered that sending convicted criminals to serve with the Navy was convenient. Generally, these “conscripts” did not mix well with a ship’s company. Dissention aboard ship was one of the items on a marine’s to-do list.
The mutineers were led by elected delegates and tried to negotiate with the Admiralty for two weeks, focusing their demands on better pay, demanding an end to the so-called 14-ounce purser’s pound. And the men wanted to get rid of a few officers, as well. No one mentioned flogging or impressment … but they could not abide an ass wearing an officer’s uniform. Throughout the mutiny, the crews maintained their regular naval routines aboard their ships and their discipline, and they consented to allow some ships to leave Spithead for convoy escort duties or combat patrols and promised to suspend the mutiny and go to sea immediately if French ships were spotted heading for English shores.
Negotiations broke down over such issues as pardons for mutineers, and some minor incidents broke out with a few unpopular officers. When the situation calmed down again, Fleet Admiral Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe (brother of Major General Sir William Howe) intervened to negotiate an agreement to obtain a royal pardon for all crews, the reassignment of some unpopular officers, a pay raise, and abolition of the purser’s pound.
The Nore Mutiny
The Nore is a long bank of sand and silt running along the south-central portion of England’s final narrowing of the Thames Estuary. Until 1964, it was the seaward limit of the Port of London. It was so dangerous that the world’s first lightship was established there in 1732.
Inspired by the example of their comrades at Spithead, the sailors at The Nore also mutinied an incident that began on 12 May 1797. The sailors of HMS Sandwich seized control of the ship, and several other ships within call’s reach followed their example. Other ships quietly slipped away despite gunfire from the ships in rebellion. Scattered ships make it difficult to organize mutinies among other ships, but each involved vessel quickly elected its delegates. The men of HMS Sandwich elected Seaman Richard Parker to serve as President of the Delegates of the Fleet.
Seaman Parker was a former master’s mate who was reduced in rank at a court-martial for insubordination and subsequently discharged. Life was hard for Parker in Exeter, and he fell into debt. This situation caused the county council to nominate Parker for duty with the Navy, and he found himself as an ordinary seaman aboard Sandwich. He had only recently joined the crew when the mutiny broke out. Parker, an older and more experienced man, fully aware of the squalid conditions aboard Sandwich, took no part in the mutiny, but he did empathize with the crew, and he agreed to represent them with the officer commanding — even though he exercised no control over the actions of the mutineers.
Crewmen formulated a list of eight demands and, on 20 May 1797, presented them to Admiral Charles Buckner. They wanted pardons, increased pay, and modifications of the Articles of War and demanded that the King dissolve Parliament and make immediate peace with France. As one might imagine, the demands infuriated the Admiralty, which offered nothing in return except a pardon (and the concessions already made at Spithead) in return for an immediate return to duty. By the first of June, mutinied ships formed a blockade of the Thames.
Captain Sir Erasmus Gower, commanding HMS Neptune in the upper Thames, put together a flotilla of fifty loyal ships and determined to use them to prevent mutineers from reaching the City of London. It was essentially Gower’s intentions that made the mutineers at Nore begin to waiver, but not before they made the wrong decision to blockade London, which prevented merchant vessels from entering port. Parker then decided to move the mutinied ships to France — which infuriated the regular English sailors and caused them to take back a few ships.
Among most of the mutineers at The Nore, if anyone was thinking about treason, it was only a few. Most men simply wanted less squalid living conditions, better food, and better pay. Parker issued orders to allow passage to merchant ships on the Thames but ordered the detention of the Royal Navy’s victualling ships. Historians claim that Parker wanted the Admiralty to have a good impression of the mutineer’s intent; other academics argue that it was a bit more complex than that. And, in any case, Parker was out of his depth.
After the successful resolution of the Spithead mutiny, the Admiralty was not inclined to make any further concessions, mainly as they felt some leaders of the Nore mutiny had political aims beyond improving pay and living conditions. The rebellion fell apart when Parker signaled ships to sail to France. When the mutineers (on most ships) observed the signal, they refused.
It did not take long for the Royal Navy to convict Seaman Parker — of treason and piracy. It also did not take the Royal Navy to hand him from the yardarm of Sandwich. Shown at right is Parker’s death mask.
Following Parker on the yardarm were 29 other seamen. An additional 29 went to prison. Nine men received a flogging, and several more found themselves headed for the penal colony in Australia. Most men, however, received no punishment — which until then was unheard of in the Royal Navy.
One tidbit: posting the watch
Ship’s crews stand their watches (periods of duty) according to the hour of the day. In the days of sail, watches were divided into two sections: port and starboard. Each of these was on duty for four hours, and then they were off duty for four hours. One stroke of the bell indicates the first half hour of the watch. An additional bell strikes for each succeeding half-hour. Eight bells indicate the end of a four-hour watch. Whenever the time calls for two or more bells, they are sounded in groups of two.
The first five watches
First watch: 20:00 to 00:00
Middle watch: 00:01 to 04:00
Morning watch: 04:01 to 08:00
Forenoon watch: 08:01 to 12:00
Afternoon watch: 12:01 to 16:00
Following the afternoon watch, the next four hours are divided into two “Dog Watches.” The first dog watch occurs from 16:01 to 18:00, and the second dog watch from 18:01 to 20:00. The dog watch can be changed every day so that each watch gets a turn at eight hours of rest at night. Otherwise, each crew member would be on duty for the same hours daily.
Before The Nore mutiny, Royal Navy vessels sounded five bells to signal the end of the last dog watch; after The Nore mutiny, five bells no longer signified the last dog watch because that was the signal aboard Sandwich to begin the mutiny.
There have seldom been what one might call “good feelings” between the English and the Irish. The Society of United Irishmen was a sworn association in the Kingdom of Ireland formed after the French Revolution to secure “equal representation” of all the people. In 1798, the society instigated a republican insurrection in defiance of the British Crown. Espousing principles they believed had been vindicated by the American Revolution, and the French Declaration of the rights of man, Presbyterian merchants who formed the organization in Belfast vowed to make cause with their Catholic brethren. In 1800, England abolished the Irish legislature, and everything went downhill from that point forward.
At the time of the Spithead and The Nore mutinies, British politicians assumed that the United Irishmen were behind these troubles as part of a plot to overthrow the British monarchy and establish in its place a British Republic. This was not true, of course, but given their turbulent past, everyone (Irish or British) was prepared to believe it.
Nalty, B. Certain Aspects of Manpower Utilization in the Marine Corps: Historical Background. Marine Corps Historical Reference Series, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1959.
Roulo, C. Why Are Marines Part of the Navy? U.S. Department of Defense, online publication.
Manwaring, G. E. The Floating Republic: An Account of the Mutinies at Spithead and The Nore in 1797. Harcourt-Brace, 1935.
Woodman, R. A Brief History of Mutiny. Carroll & Graff, 2005.
 Introduced by Prime Minister William Pitt (the Younger) in 1795. The system required every British county to provide a certain number of men for service in the Royal Navy. The quota depended on the population of the counties. In some cases, county commissions found it difficult to meet their quota, so they offered bounties to landsmen, which created some dissension among regular swabbies. The system lasted through 1815, when the British decommissioned most of its navy.
 The purser’s pound was an arrangement where the ship’s purser was allowed to keep 2 ounces of food for every 16 ounces of food sold to the crew.
 Howe commanded HMS Baltimore during the Jacobite Uprising in 1745.
 Master’s Mate is no longer a rank in the British or American navies. Originally, the master’s mate was an experienced senior petty officer who assisted the ship’s master but was not in line for an officer’s commission. By the mid-18th century, though, this rate was a senior midshipman awaiting a commission to lieutenant.
There are two Banastre Tarleton’s. The first one — the real one — is part of British Army history and, of course, that of the American Revolution. The second Banastre is an invention of Hollywood writers and every historian content to evaluate history through 21st-century rose-colored lenses.
I have no inside information about what goes on inside Hollywood production studios. I simply know that whenever Mel Gibson begins a project having anything to do with British history, the British always come out looking horrible. He did that with the film about William Wallace, which was more fiction than fact — and he did it with the film The Patriot, where he painted Cornwallis as dishonorable and Banastre Tarleton as a war criminal. Placing “entertainment” aside, if that’s what fictional history is, Gibson and others are teaching their American audiences revisionist history. Given the current state of education in the United States, one may argue that Americans don’t need any help learning the wrong history.
Taking another look
Banastre Tarleton was born on 21 August 1754. I’ve read that he was either the second, third, or fourth of seven children of John Tarleton, the former lord mayor of Liverpool, a money lender, a merchant, and a slave trader. Banastre was fortunate to have a wealthy father — just not lucky enough to be his father’s first born son. Although his father paid for his education at prestigious Oxford University, his was a rather undistinguished learning experience. He seemed more interested in drinking, gambling, and consorting with loose women than studying. When his father died in 1773, Banastre inherited £5,000, which he promptly squandered. The purchase of his military commission was a gift of his mother, who promised her son that he’d seen his last monetary gift from the home front.
What kind of person was Banastre Tarleton? For a young man raised in the home of a slave trader, we might expect that he developed a cold-hearted worldview. In later life, as a member of Parliament, Tarleton rigorously defended the slave trade (upon which his family’s fortunes rested), and he was known to verbally attack abolitionist politicians.
Coronet Tarleton arrived in North America in 1776 and was assigned rather mundane duties of an administrative manner. It did not take him long to run up another £2,500 of debt. We may not have heard any more about Banastre Tarleton were it not for the stunning defeat of General John Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777.
A twenty-one-year-old Banastre Tarleton sailed from Cork in December 1775 with Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis’s mission was to capture Charleston, South Carolina. This expedition failed, but in the following year, Tarleton joined the main British Army under General William Howe in New York. Coronet Tarleton was assigned to Colonel William Harcourt.
Coronet Tarleton was part of a scouting party ordered to gather information about the movements of General Charles Lee in New Jersey. On 13 December 1776, Tarleton surrounded a house in Basking Ridge and forced General Lee, dressed in his nightgown, to surrender by threatening to burn down the house. Lee surrendered.
Subsequently, Tarleton’s campaign service in 1776 earned him the position of brigade major; he was barely 22 years old. He was promoted to captain on 13 June 1778, having served in several combat engagements — including the Battle of Brandywine and others (1777 – 1778). One such battle was an attack on a communications outpost in Easton Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, which was guarded by Captain Henry Lee III. In this battle, the patriots repulsed the British assault. Captain Tarleton was wounded in this action.
Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga led senior British commanders to shift their efforts to the southern colonies, where they believed Loyalists would help them to win the war. To help accomplish that, General Sir Henry Clinton created a British Legion from among the communities of British loyalists. Formed in July 1778, the Legion initially consisted of several small loyalist militia units from New York, placed into a single organization of mounted infantry, cavalry, and “flying” artillery.
In 1778, Tarleton was 24 years old. His mission was to patrol, track, raid, assault, shock, and destroy enemy guerrilla forces. Between 1778 – 1782, the British Legion participated in 15 separate combat operations — but, by every account, Tarleton completed his mission enthusiastically, efficiently, and ruthlessly … giving rise to the claim that the young colonel was guilty of war crimes.
Any British notion that southern loyalists would save the day was a substantial miscalculation because what the British had to contend with in the Carolinas was the backcountry Scots-Irish who had been pushing British buttons since 1740.
In 1778, these hard-headed people (and their offspring) had become rebel militiamen and guerrillas. Colonel Tarleton’s attitude was that if these people were going to ruthlessly attack British formations and baggage trains, then they should be prepared for some ruthlessness in return. To his credit, Tarleton’s legion was constantly in the saddle, far afield from regular garrisons. They seized what they needed to sustain themselves — from the King’s subjects, which was only proper. These rebels were, after all, committing their treason on the King’s land.
At most, Tarleton had around 500 men in uniform. On average, it was probably closer to 300. When the Legion needed more men, Tarleton’s officers recruited them from among the loyalist communities (and rebel deserters). He motivated the men by convincing them that they were the British Army’s elite fighters. They distinguished themselves by wearing green uniforms rather than redcoats. Tarleton’s standing order to his men was to give the enemy “fire and sword.” And that’s what they did.
Charleston, South Carolina, fell to General Sir Henry Clinton’s British forces on 12 May 1780. A column of around 380 patriot reinforcements known as the Third Virginia Detachment, serving under Colonel Abraham Buford, failed to reach the city before it’s capitulation. Once they realized that the city had fallen, they withdrew. Buford’s command involved two companies of the 2nd Virginia Regiment, 40 light dragoons, and two six-pound cannons.
Having taken the city, General Clinton prepared to return to New York, appointing his deputy, Lieutenant General Cornwallis, to assume command of the southern army. Even though a week had elapsed when Cornwallis learned of Buford’s presence, he dispatched Colonel Tarleton to pursue him. At that time, Tarleton’s command consisted of around 230 Legionnaires, reinforced by 40 men from the 17th Light Dragoon and a three-pound cannon.
Colonel Tarleton aggressively moved his men 150 miles rapidly, catching up with Buford on the afternoon of 29 May. The area in which the two forces caught sight of each other lies along the border of North and South Carolina — an area known as the Waxhaws. Colonel Tarleton sent a message to Buford demanding his surrender. Initially, Buford refused and ordered his baggage and weapons train to continue moving northward in all due haste. He then formed a battle line in an open field across his route of march, placing his infantry in a single line with orders not to fire until the British approached within ten yards.
While approaching Buford’s position, Tarleton organized his force into three attacking columns. He deployed 120 British dragoons on his right flank, intending to dismount his infantry to fire upon the Americans and pin them down. His center column consisted of his elite force, regulars of the 17th Light Dragoons and Legionnaires to charge straight ahead, and a left flank column of 30 legionnaires under his personal command, intending to sweep the American right flank and drive for their baggage and reserves. Tarleton retained his only cannon in reserve.
Colonel Tarleton ordered his attack as soon as its elements were in position. Buford’s men, having been ordered to withhold their fire, were overwhelmed by the speed and aggressiveness of the British assault. Tarleton’s three columns devastated the American defenders. As quickly as it had begun, the battle was over. British casualties were slight, with five killed and 14 wounded. The American losses were 113 men killed and 203 wounded — with Colonel Buford escaping to safety. When Buford was out of danger, he reported the engagement as a massacre of surrendered men. Even now, the American Battle Trust refers to this engagement as the Buford Massacre.
Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton tells us a different story. In A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America (1787), Tarleton tells us that after arriving at Camden, he obtained intelligence from local citizens that Colonel Buford had quit Rugeley’s Mills on 26th May and was marching in all haste to join a corps thought to be marching on the road between Salisbury and Charlotte town in North Carolina. With this information, Tarleton moved vigorously to prevent the union of these troops.
Tarleton’s men reached Rugeley’s Mill in daylight and learned that the Continentals were in full retreat some twenty miles down the road toward Catawba. Motivated by his enthusiasm to meet the enemy, Tarleton quickened his pace, sending Captain Kinlock ahead with a message to the American commander: surrender his force. Buford turned back to meet the British foe.
By this time, heat and humidity had defeated many of the British cavalry and dragoons, men who were so worn out that they began to drop out of the formation and fall into the rear of the column. This was the condition of Tarleton’s men as he approached the Americans — and the commander realized that his men did not have the energy for a prolonged engagement. This is why Tarleton decided to attack the enemy as soon as possible — and to prevent reinforcements from reaching the American line. At this moment, the only circumstance favorable to the British light dragoons was the known inferiority of the American cavalry.
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the advanced guard of the British charged a sergeant and four men of the American light dragoon and made them prisoners. Colonel Buford readied his 380 men for action, forming them in a single line with a small reserve, and ordered his baggage and wagons to continue their march.
Tarleton formed his men for an attack with haste. He assigned 120 mounted men to the right flank under Major Cochrane. He ordered Cochrane to dismount 60 dragoons to gall the Americans’ flank. He directed Captain Corbet and Captain Kinlock to charge the center, and he would lead 30 men to sweep the American right flank.
Thus far, Buford had not fired upon Tarleton. When the British arrived within fifty yards of the American line, Buford ordered the riflemen to present — but their officers ordered them to hold fire. In accordance with Buford’s intention, the Americans would only have one shot before the British were inside the line.
The American riflemen took their shot when the British were within ten yards. Colonel Tarleton’s horse was shot, and he collapsed with the animal. Tarleton quickly recovered, but his men, thinking he was shot, unleashed their rage upon the Americans, and Buford’s battalion was soon broken and “no quarter” delivered before Tarleton could regain control of this force.
When the Americans had taken their shot, Tarleton’s horse was shot, and he collapsed with his horse. Tarleton quickly recovered, but his men, thinking he was shot, unleashed their rage upon the Americans, and the battalion was soon broken with no quarter delivered before Tarleton could regain control of his men. Given the over-stimulation and vindictiveness of the legionnaires, the loss of American officers and men was significant.
The wounded (American and British) of both parties were collected with all possible dispatch and treated with equal humanity. The American officers and soldiers who were unable to travel were paroled the next morning and placed at the neighboring plantations and in a meeting house not far distant from the field of battle: Surgeons were sent from Camden and Charlotte town to assist them, and every possible convenience was provided by the British.
To dispel the idea popular among some American historians that General Cornwallis countenanced “war crimes” in his command, he actually did not seem to have much patience for misbehavior among his soldiers. In 1781, Lord Cornwallis rode to the front of Tarleton’s regimental column and ordered Colonel Tarleton to dismount his regiment and have his men and officers stand at attention by their mounts.
Tarleton, as we now know, was one of Cornwallis’ favorite officers. Was he too lax with his men? Perhaps. Although, what he may have lacked in disciplinary judgment, he made up for in his enthusiasm and battlefield courage. As his men stood at attention, Lord Cornwallis and several civilians walked down the line looking at each trooper, inspecting each face. From time to time, Cornwallis and the civilians engaged in hushed conversations. Finally, Cornwallis ordered his guards to seize two men — a private and a sergeant and pulled them out of the ranks. The two legionnaires appeared before a court martial charged with rape and robbery. Found guilty, Cornwallis had them hanged.
The British Army could be brutal. Some will argue that harshness to influence discipline is part of military virtue. Either the men are disciplined, or they are not. No doubt, Colonel Tarleton was feeling uncomfortable as he observed his men swinging from the gallows. General Cornwallis had warned his favorite officer to bring his legionnaires to heel because he believed they were playing fast and loose with proper decorum as representatives of His Majesty’s Army.
There is little doubt that Tarleton’s command was ruthless. War is a ruthless business, and there can be no doubt that rebellious colonists were traitors to the Crown. Tarleton was walking a tightrope. How much ruthlessness is acceptable? Where does one draw the line?
In South Carolina, Francis Marion (also known as the Swamp Fox) had long served as a British and later state militia officer. Marion never served in command of a field army or participated in a major engagement, but his expertise in irregular (guerilla) warfare earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Throughout the southern campaign, Colonel Tarleton did everything within his power to disrupt and, if possible, capture General Marion — without success.
Marion was a popular son of South Carolina, and he had no problem gaining the support and assistance of local citizens. Tarleton, on the other hand, unapologetically took what forage he needed to support his men. South Carolinians were less inclined to support the rash British dragoon. It was a matter of culture: Tarleton treated the people of South Carolina for what they were — the King’s subjects. In time, even the loyalists began to resent Tarleton’s haughtiness and became less inclined to offer any support.
Colonel Tarleton was instrumental in helping General Cornwallis win the Battle of Camden in August 1780. He also defeated Thomas Sumter at Fishing Creek (Catawba Fords) but was less successful with Sumter at Blackstock’s Farm (November 1780).
Colonel Tarleton’s forces were virtually destroyed on 17 January 1781 by General Daniel Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens. Tarleton and 200 men managed to escape the battlefield. Colonel William Washington commanded the rebel cavalry when attacked by Tarleton and two of his men. Washington stopped Tarleton by aggressively assaulting him with his sword and challenging him by saying loudly, “Where is now the boasting Tarleton?”
A young coronet of the 17th Dragoons, Thomas Patterson, rode up to strike Washington but was shot and killed by Washington’s orderly. In this encounter, Washington wounded Tarleton in his right hand, and Tarleton returned the favor by shooting Washington, wounding him in the knee, and also wounding his horse. Washington, incensed, pursued Tarleton for sixteen miles, finally losing sight of him at the Goudylock Plantation.
Banastre Tarleton was a gallant military officer — one who took his duties seriously, and perhaps, in some instances, too seriously. But he was no war criminal, and he did not die in a hand-to-hand fight with Mel Gibson. Tarleton returned to Great Britain and entered the world of politics. His combat wounds served him well as a returning hero. Not everyone agreed with General Tarleton’s account of the Southern Campaign, of course … proving that the British Army, like most other armies, are highly political.
In 1812, Tarleton was commissioned to full general. He anticipated being appointed to command British forces in the Peninsular War, but that assignment went to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke Wellington. Instead, Tarleton held military command in Ireland and England.
Bass, R. D. The Green Dragoon, Sandlapper Publications, 2003
Reynolds, W. R. Jr. Andrew Pickens: South Carolina Patriot in the Revolutionary War. McFarland & Company, 2012.
Scotti, A. J. Brutal Virtue: The Myth and Reality of Banastre Tarleton. Heritage Books, 2002.
Wilson, D. K. The southern strategy: Britain’s conquest of South Carolina and Georgia, 1775–1780. University of South Carolina Press, 2005.
Raddall, T. H. Tarleton’s Legion. Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, 1949.
Tarleton, B. A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the southern provinces of North America. 1787. Kindle Edition.
 Historian Michael Bryant states that the first use of the term “war criminal” occurred in 1906 in a book on international law, suggesting also that the concept existed much earlier than that.
 Coronet was the lowest commissioned grade of the British Cavalry, equivalent to modern-day second lieutenant.
 A brigade major is the chief of staff of a brigade. It is a job position, not a rank; however, such men commonly held the rank of major (but also captain), but intentionally below the rank of lieutenant colonel who generally served as officers commanding subordinate battalions. Brigades major provided detail concerning and executed the intentions of the brigade commander.
 Flying artillery was a new concept in 1778. It involved fast-moving cavalry, swift movement of artillery, and mounted infantry (dragoons) formed from Caledonian Volunteers, West Jersey Volunteers, Captain Kinloch’s independent New York Dragoons, Philadelphia Light Dragoons, the Prince of Wales’s American Volunteers, and the 16th Light Dragoons. To lead the Legion, Tarleton was advanced to lieutenant colonel and ordered to move his 250 cavalry and 200 dragoons to the Carolinas.
 A geographical region extending beyond both sides of the North and South Carolina border within Lancaster, Union, and Mecklenburg counties.
Nearly everyone recalls that the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763) was a global conflict that involved most of Europe’s great powers. It was primarily fought in Europe, in the Americas, and the Asian Pacific — but there were concurrent conflicts that included the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763), the Carnatic Wars (a series of conflicts in India’s coastal Carnatic region, 1744 – 1763), and the Anglo-Spanish War (1762 – 1763).
Opposing European alliances were led by Great Britain and France, both of which were seeking to establish global pre-eminence at the expense of the other. France and Spain opposed Great Britain in Europe and overseas with land armies, naval forces, and colonial forces. Great Britain’s ally, Prussia, sought territorial expansion in Europe and consolidation of its power. Great Britain also challenged France and Spain in the West Indies — with consequential results. Prussia wanted greater influence in the German principalities, and Austria wanted to regain control of Silesia and contain Prussian influence.
The conflict forced the realignment of traditional alliances (known as the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756), where Prussia became part of the British coalition (which included a long-time competitor of Prussia, the principality of Hanover — which was in personal union with Britain). At the same time, Austria ended centuries of conflict between the Bourbon and Habsburg families by aligning itself with France, Saxony, Sweden, and Russia. Spain also aligned with France (1761). Smaller German states joined the war or supplied mercenaries to the parties involved.
Additionally, Anglo-French conflicts broke out in their North American colonies in 1754, when British and French colonial militias and their respective Native American allies engaged in small skirmishes and later full-scale colonial warfare. These colonial conflicts became a theatre of the Seven Years’ War when war was officially declared two years later. In the end, France lost most of its land on the Continent. Some historians claim that it was the most important event to occur in North America during the 18th century — prior to the American Revolution.
Spain entered the war on the side of France in 1762, but the effort to invade British ally Portugal was unsuccessful. As it turned out, Spain’s alliance with France was a disaster because the British gained footholds in Havana, Cuba, and in Manila, The Philippines.
Inside Europe, the area that generated most of the conflict was Austria’s desire to recover Silesia from Prussia. This contest was resolved in 1763, but more importantly, the war’s end signaled the beginning of Great Britain’s rise to become the world’s foremost colonial and naval power. Until after its revolution, France had no chance of becoming a supreme power. Prussia confirmed its status as a great power and, in doing so, altered the balance of power in Europe.
What most people do not realize, however, is that The Seven Years’ War marked a new beginning in the art and science of warfare. Frederick the Great embarked on land campaigns that later influenced Napoleon’s field commanders. Such terms as command and control and maneuver warfare both belonged to Frederick the Great. At sea, the British Royal Navy committed to decisive action under the leadership of Admiral Horatio Nelson. His innovations gave us Rule Britannia and the British Way of War.
What sets the Seven Years’ War apart from all prior Anglo-French experiences is not in the evolution of its transatlantic maritime conduct but in the innovation of a distinct military theory: amphibious operations.
Central to this doctrinal leap was Sir Thomas More Molyneux’s 1759 masterpiece, titled Conjunct Expeditions. It begins: “Happy for that People who are Sovereigns enough of the Sea to put [Littoral War] in Execution. For it comes like Thunder and Lightning to some unprepared Part of the World.”
Sir Thomas was an Oxford-educated guards officer serving on half-pay and a member of Parliament. His masterpiece was a unique addition to existing professional military literature. But while certain accomplishments were recognized for their importance as strategic blows, Quebec for example, none have become as studied or analyzed as Molyneux’s dissertation on amphibious warfare. The doctrine belongs to him alone.
There were indeed insulated instances of tactical flag signals and landing schemes that pre-date Molyneux’s Conjunct Expeditions, but his effort was the first to codify methods for employment by both land and sea forces.
Although he was writing primarily for a military audience (his training was Army, after all) rather than to a naval assembly, he sought to reduce, “if possible, this amphibious kind of warfare to a safe and regular system and to leave as little as we can to fortune and her caprices.” Sir Thomas was a brilliant man, an instinctive thinker who understood that every new expedition will, in all probability, produce some new improvement. He knew that while theory informs practice, its execution demands good judgment. His brilliance is illustrated by the fact that he placed “doctrine” second to the objectives and aims of the nation. The purpose of doctrine was to serve the national interests — as was a knowledge of geography, proper utilization of resources, galvanized political will, individual courage, and devotion to the success of such operations.
His understanding of the relationship between political ends and military means elevated his work to the level of that of Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz, who much later developed treatises on military theory incorporating the moral, psychological, and political aspects of war. Molyneux understood the importance between strategic intent and doctrinal capability. He knew that the disconnect between the two, or a failure to adapt to an evolving situation, brings forth the likelihood of defeat. Such principles are observable during The Seven Years’ War: Great Britain adapted its war aims and methods — France did not.
The world’s vast oceans presented Great Britain’s navy with significant challenges beyond navigation and regular seamanship. There was a question of how best to project the Royal Navy’s power from sea to shore — a challenge that lasted two-hundred years. Today, naval and military war planners give as much thought and consideration to warfare in the littoral (nearshore) regions as they do the deep blue sea. But close-to-shore operations offer complex challenges that no one thought of in 1754. And opportunities that no one imagined. Molyneux indeed put in writing concepts that had never before been put to paper, but amphibious operations (without doctrine) had been a fact of warfare for three-thousand years. It had simply not reached its full potential.
We believe that the ancient Greeks were the first to use amphibious warfare techniques. This information was passed to us from Homer’s The Iliad and the Odyssey. It is, of course, possible that such an operation may have occurred at an earlier time, at a different place, but was simply not recorded in history. Still, according to the Iliad, Greek soldiers crossed the Aegean Sea and stormed ashore on the beaches near Troy, which began a siege lasting ten years. Then, in 499 B.C., the Persians launched a waterborne attack against the Greeks. At the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. Persian forces established a beachhead in their attempt to invade Greece. They employed ships specifically designed for off-loading ships near shore, and while the Persians successfully executed their amphibious operation, the Greeks defeated the Persian armies as they moved inland.
At the beginning of 56 B.C., Caesar split his army up and sent them out from their winter quarters to the various corners of Gaul. He dispatched his lieutenant in charge of cavalry, Titus Labienus, to Belgae to fend off German tribalists at the Rhine. To Quintus Titurius Sabinus and three legions, he assigned responsibility to pacify the Venelli on the northern coast. He directed Publius Crassus to lead twelve cohorts to southeast Aquitania near Hispania to pacify the ancient Basque. Caesar’s plan was intended to prevent rebellious tribes from joining forces against Roman authority.
In the winter of 57 BC, the tribes inhabiting the northern coast of Gaul surrendered their allegiance to Rome — and then, almost immediately raised an insurrection against their Roman governor, Julius Caesar. The insurrection was led by Veneti (modern-day Brittany) and Venelli (modern-day Normandy). There was no formal Roman government to rebel against, but as a matter of principle, the tribalists felt obliged to rebel against Roman authority.
With his remaining four legions, Caesar himself moved east from Belgae territory toward the Veneti on the eastern coast of Gaul. In fear of Rome’s infantry, the Veneti began abandoning their villages to set up fortified strongholds along rivers and tributaries where tides made passage difficult. None of those conditions stopped the Romans, however. Having seized the Veneti strongholds, Caesar forced them toward the sea, where the rebels had collected a large naval force from among their fleets docked between Gaul and Britannia — about two hundred and twenty ships strong.
Caesar had no intention of allowing the Veneti to succeed in their rebellion. He ordered assistance from the Roman navy in building ships, a project that took all summer. A member of Brutus’s family was placed in command of this fleet while Julius Caesar stood aground with his land force on the coastline to observe the fight.
The challenge facing the Romans was not the size nor the skill of the enemy but the construction of their ships. Roman ships were lighter with deeper hulls — ill-suited to traverse the rocky, shallow coastline. The Veneti’s ships were constructed of heavy oak, flat-bottomed, and suitable for nearshore operations. The strength of the oak and its thickness made the Roman technique of ramming ineffective. But the Veneti ships were also slower. The Romans were engineers. They developed a long pole with a large hook fastened to its tip, which would be shot at the yards and masts of the Gallic ships. The effect of such hooks destroyed the sails of the Veneti ships while keeping them afloat in the water. The device used to project these poles was re-engineered ballistae. After encircling the Veneti boats, Roman marines boarded them and put the crew to the sword. From this experience, the Romans learned how to utilize boats to land on Britannia’s shore. However, as a historical footnote, the tribes in Gaul were not, as they say, very fast learners. See also: Mare Nostrum.
Beginning around 800 A.D., the Norsemen (Vikings) began their raids into Western Europe via major rivers and estuaries. The people living along these rivers were so terrified of these raiders that even the lookout’s shout was enough to cause cardiac arrest in some people. In 1066, William the Conqueror successfully invaded England from Normandy, and he successfully imposed his will upon the Angles and Saxons then living in what became known as Angle Land (England). But other efforts to force a sea-to-shore landing weren’t as successful. Spain’s Armada came to a disastrous result while attempting to land troops in England in the year 1588.
The Marines and their Corps
The first U.S. Navy amphibious landing occurred during the American Revolution when in 1776, sailors and Marines stormed ashore in the British Bahamas. The Nassau landing wasn’t much to brag about (back then or now), but it was a start. Among the more famous amphibious raids conducted by Marines assigned to ship’s detachments occurred during the Barbary Wars.
While Marines did conduct ship-to-shore raids during the American Civil War, the Union Army conducted most amphibious raids because, in those days, the principal mission of American Marines was to serve aboard ship, not conduct raids ashore. Following the civil war, however, in the 1880s and 1890s, Navy squadron commanders occasionally dispatched their Marine Detachments ashore (augmented by ship’s company (called Bluejackets)) to emphasize Navy power in connection with U.S. gunboat diplomacy. The reader will find an example of such “amphibious operations” in the story of Handsome Jack.
U.S. Marines became serious students of amphibious warfare beginning with the landing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1898 — by every measure, a complete success and a demonstration to the nation that the Navy and Marine Corps had a unique skill set that might prove useful in future conflicts. In 1910, the Marines moved one step closer to forming a Fleet Marine Force organization with its creation of an Advanced Base Force — a concept seeking to provide an adequate defense of naval bases and installations within the Pacific Rim.
Other countries attempted to employ amphibious operations, but mostly with disastrous results — such as during the Crimean War (1853) and the debacle at Gallipoli (1915 – 1916). As a consequence of the Gallipoli disaster, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps began studying Amphibious Warfare in earnest in the 1920s and 1930s.
During the inter-war period (between world wars), international committees met to discuss how to achieve world peace. Among the recommendations was an agreement to impose a reduction to naval armaments. This effort was an unqualified disaster (and probably did as much to ignite World War II as the Allies’ unreasonable demand for reparations in 1919), but while government leaders hemmed and hawed, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps proceeded with the development of specialized amphibious warfare equipment and doctrine.
Additionally, new troop organizations, landing craft, amphibious tractors that could travel on water and land, and landing tactics were devised, tested, re-examined, and retested. Training exercises emphasized using naval artillery and carrier-based aircraft to provide close fire support for assault troops. Combat loading techniques were developed so that ships could quickly unload the equipment required first in an amphibious landing, accepting some reductions in cargo stowage efficiency in return for improved assault capabilities.
To facilitate training for officers and NCOs in these newly acquired capabilities, a Marine Corps School was established at Quantico, Virginia — where subject matter could not only be taught but rehearsed, as well. In 1933, the Navy and Marines established the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) concept from what had been known as the Advance Base Force. The FMF became America’s quick-reaction force and became the standard vehicle through which emerging ideas about amphibious warfare could be tested through annual fleet landing exercises.
By 1934 Marine tacticians had developed effective amphibious techniques, and it was in that year the Marine Corps published its Tentative Landing Operations Manual, which today remains an important source of amphibious warfare doctrine. These preparations proved invaluable in World War II when the Marines not only spearheaded many of the attacks against Japanese-held islands in the Pacific War but also trained U.S. Army divisions that also participated in the Atlantic theater as well as the island-hopping Pacific Campaigns.
After a succession of U.S. defeats by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the tide of war turned. At Coral Sea in the southwest Pacific and Midway in the central Pacific, U.S. aircraft carriers stopped the Japanese advances in history’s first carrier-versus-carrier battles. Quickly taking the initiative, the United States began its offensive campaigns against the Japanese when, on 7 August 1942, the 1st Marine Division assaulted Tulagi Island and invaded Guadalcanal in the southwest Pacific. For an account of this engagement, see the series: Guadalcanal: First to Fight.
In the European-Mediterranean theaters, the distances were shorter from allied bases to the assault beaches, but the demand for amphibious expertise was equally high. Allied naval forces scrambled to secure amphibious shipping and landing craft to support the Atlantic-Mediterranean war effort. Senior Marine officers assigned to Naval Planning Staffs played an important role in the success of the invasion of North Africa (1942), Sicily, and Salerno (1943). The Atlantic War was challenging from several different aspects, and some of these efforts weren’t revealed until well after the end of the war. Colonel Pierre Julien Ortiz served with the OSS behind the lines, and Hollywood actor Sterling Hayden served as a U.S. Marine captain with the OSS in the Aegean Sea.
When Germany surrendered to the allied powers on 7 May 1945, Pacific War planners were putting the final touches on their invasion plan for mainland Japan. They were also awaiting the arrival of additional shipping and manpower from the European Theater. No one with any brains was enthusiastic about the idea of having to invade Japan.
The Battles for Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa established one painful reality: an invasion of mainland Japan would be costly. Allied war planners had learned an important lesson from the Japanese during their island-hopping campaigns. The Japanese were using a suicidal defensive strategy. They realized they could not stop the Allied juggernaut — but they could certainly kill a lot of allied troops in their “defense in depth” strategy. This fact led allied war planners to envision another one million allied infantry dead before Japan finally capitulated — that is … unless a miraculous alternative somehow presented itself.
And one did
Much has been written about the decision to drop (two) atomic bombs on Japanese cities. Even General MacArthur argued that the Japanese were already beaten — that there was no justifiable reason to drop “the bomb.”
One can argue that General MacArthur was in a position to know whether atomic warfare was necessary, but in 1945, General MacArthur was 65 years old. He was from the “old school” American military. He did not believe that dropping nuclear weapons on innocent citizens was a moral course of action — and this was a fine argument. But then, neither was sending another million men into harm’s way when there was an alternative course of action. And, in any case, the Japanese themselves — by adopting their defense-in-depth strategy — signaled their understanding that they could not win the war. If the Japanese had to die in the war, then by all means, take as many Allied troops as possible along. This appalling (and incomprehensible) attitude pushed allied war planners into making that horrendous decision.
Two significant facts about this decision stand out. First, Japanese arrogance did not allow senior Japanese officials to admit they were beaten. They were happy to “fight on” until every Japanese man, woman, and child lay dead on the Japanese archipelago. Second, it took two (not one) atomic bombs to convince the Japanese they were beaten. Two. There was no need for two, but the Japanese would not capitulate until the bombing of Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima.
When the Japanese finally did surrender, on 2 September 1945, World War II ended. The suffering of the Japanese people, however, continued for many years. Between 1945 – 1948, thousands of people died from starvation or exposure to frigid weather every single night for nearly three years. While this was happening, Allied forces had to manage the repatriation of Japanese Imperial forces throughout the Far East. In 1946, the Chinese civil war resumed and continued through 1949. In the face of all this, President Truman set into motion the deactivation of America’s wartime military (even though some of these men were still in harm’s way in China).
Following hostilities, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) reviewed all after-action reports from amphibious operations. As expected, many landing craft and amphibious-vehicle casualties were due to enemy action — but many were also related to problems with tidal waves and rip currents caused by undersea mountains that contributed to capsizing, swamping, or broaching landing craft.
For example, the analysis revealed flaws involving amphibious boats and tracked vehicles operating on confined landing areas, the slope of the beach, water levels, and soil. ONR found that saturated sand near the water’s edge would liquefy (and trap) landing vehicles due to the vibrations produced by an overabundance of vehicular traffic. One of the reasons allied forces continued to conduct training exercises on war-torn beaches (such as Iwo Jima) was to observe these conditions in detail and prepare findings that would improve the capabilities of U.S. amphibious assault vehicles.
When the Korean War exploded late in June 1950, America’s military hierarchy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), had already made up its mind that amphibious warfare was a relic of the past. They could not have been more wrong about that. The North Korean attack was lightning quick, overwhelming, and entirely the fault of Mr. “The Buck Stops Here Truman.” The poorly trained South Korean military was swept aside like a pile of autumn leaves — and the small American military advisory group with it. Nor were any of General MacArthur’s occupation forces serving in Japan any help. The only two services ready for this event were the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps — but only barely.
The North Korean Army was stopped in August 1950, but it was an awful bloody event that Truman somewhat dismissively linked to police action. It raged for three years and set into motion a series of armed conflicts that lasted twenty-five years. What turned this looming disaster around was an amphibious assault — one that General Omar Bradley, the JCS Chairman, said couldn’t be done. It took a Marine Corps two-star general to prove Bradley wrong. While the North Korean Army began its stranglehold of the Pusan Perimeter, Major General Oliver P. Smith was planning the invasion of Inchon, Korea. On 16 September 1950, the amphibious assault that couldn’t be done had become a matter of history.
Following the Korean War, the United States permanently assigned naval task forces to the western Pacific and Mediterranean areas. In each of these strategically vital locations, one or more reinforced Marine infantry battalions served as the special landing force within the fleet amphibious ready group. The ARG/SLF provided quick responses to crises in Lebanon (1958), Laos (1961), Thailand (1962), the Dominican Republic (1965), and the Republic of Vietnam (1965).
More recently, 45 amphibious ships carried Marines to the Middle East and supported them in the late 1980s and 1990s — essentially, 75% of the Navy’s total active fleet. Before 1991, generally regarded as the Cold War period, U.S. Marines responded to crises about three to four times a year. Following Operation Desert Storm, the Marine Corps’ amphibious capabilities were called on roughly six times a year. Why? Because it is more cost-effective to maintain a rapid reaction force of Marines than to maintain the costs of maintaining American military bases overseas.
Today, the U.S. Marine Corps maintains three Marine Expeditionary Forces to respond to any crisis — no matter where in the world it might occur. Each MEF, working alongside a U.S. Navy Fleet command, can deploy any size combat structure from battalion landing teams and Marine Expeditionary Units (air, ground, logistics support capabilities) to expeditionary brigades and reinforced MEFs.
During the Vietnam War, III MEF became the largest Marine Corps combat command in the entire history of the Corps — exercising command authority over 80,000 Marines assigned to the 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Division, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the Force Logistics Command, and numerous U.S. Army and Vietnamese infantry organizations and their supporting elements. Over a period of more than six years, III MEF participated in 400 combat operations. Each Marine Expeditionary Force has the same quick-reaction capability.
No matter where these Marines might originate, there is one guarantee: when they arrive at their destination, they will be ready to fight a sustained engagement. At that instant, when they bust down the enemy’s front door, the enemy will know that these Marines have come from across the sea — just as Sir Thomas More Molyneux envisioned that they should.
Anderson, F. The War that Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. Penguin Books, 2006.
Baden, C. The Ottoman Crimean War (1853 – 1856). Brill Publishing, 2010.
Blanning, T. Frederick the Great: King of Prussia. Yale University, 2016.
Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War. Brassey’s Publications, 1963.
Fowler, W. H. Empires at War: The Seven Years’ War and the Struggle for North America. Douglas & McIntyre, 2005.
Heck, T. and B. A. Friedman, Eds., On Contested Shores: The Evolving Role of Amphibious Operations in the History of Warfare. Marine Corps University, 2020.
Marine Corps Publication: III Marine Expeditionary Force: Forward, Faithful, Focused, (2021).
Ricks, T. E. The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. Penguin Press, 2012.
Savage, M. U.S. Marines in the Civil War. Warfare History Network, 2014.
Taylor, A. J. P. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848 – 1918. Oxford Press, 1954.
Willmott, H. P. The Last Century of Sea Power: From Port Arthur to Chanak, 1894 – 1922. Indiana University Press, 2009.
 “Personal Union” simply means that two countries share the same head of state — in this case, the monarch, George II.
 Anderson, F. Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. Random House, 2007.
 The ancient city of Troy was called Ilion (hence, the poem called Iliad). The city actually existed around 1,400 years B.C., and although the poem was believed written down around 800 B.C., it was carried down from one generation to the next as part of an oral tradition for several hundred years. Homer, of course, receives credit as its author.
 After full and frank discussions between the War and Navy departments, the Navy decided (and the War Department agreed) that there was no significant role for the U.S. Army in the matter of defending advanced naval bases/coaling stations in the Pacific Rim. For one thing, the Navy envisioned a defense force that it actually owned/controlled. That would be the Marines, of course. For another (as reflected in the Army’s rather poor showing during the Spanish-American War), the Army is simply too large/too heavy to operate as a strike force.
 For many years after the war, Japanese officials complained that ground zero at Nagasaki was an orphanage. This may be true. There were no “surgically precise” bombs in World War II. On the other hand, why did it take two atomic bombs to convince Japanese officials that the war was over?
 In 1946, General Bradley also predicted there would never again be a need for an amphibious operation.
Lieutenant Colonel William Washington of the 3rd Continental Light Dragoons rode quietly at the head of his regiment. He was a large man for a light horseman. He was over six feet tall with bear-like shoulders, a ruddy face, and clubbed brown hair. One of his commanding generals described him as the “Hercules” of his day. Perhaps. That isn’t what we see in his portraits. We see an ordinary-looking man with no wig or hat, a round, honest face, and a casual open stare.
By September 1781, Colonel Washington was 29 years old. A wounded veteran of six years’ service, a former minuteman in Stafford County, Virginia, and a member of the Old Dominion gentry. His cousin, of course, was the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
William did not share those aristocratic attributes — he was more comfortable in the saddle than in parlors and drawing rooms drinking tea and discussing politics. No, William was a fighter. He amused himself with horse racing, good cigars, fine whiskey, and a modest wager. He was unassuming, respectful of others, self-confident, good-humored, and friendly. But there was also another side to William Washington: he was hot-tempered when his blood was up. When he led his regiment into the fight, he was always the first man across the line of departure. Like a badger, once he had hold of his enemy, he wouldn’t let go. But, as with all good soldiers, it was only a matter of time before his luck ran out.
George Washington was 20 years old when Cousin William was born in 1752 — and only two years away from igniting the Seven Years’ War. William’s parents were Bailey Washington, Sr., and Catherine Storke Washington, who were married in 1749. William was their second-born child, whom Bailey named William after Catherine’s father, William Storke, the Sheriff of Stafford County. Bailey was moderately wealthy — the owner of 1,200 acres of prime agricultural land near Aquia Creek. The bad news for William was that he would not stand to inherit this property. Still, he was raised in a privileged environment, and while 1,200 acres wasn’t as large as the estate at Mount Vernon, it was large enough to require an investment in horses. William Washington was raised in an environment of horse breeding, horsemanship, and horse racing.
At one time, Stafford County was part of Westmoreland County, created in 1664 as the Virginia colony sought to organize itself through a series of commonwealth structures. In time, Stafford County (named after Staffordshire, England) gave way to such jurisdictions as Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria.
As a southern planter, Bailey Washington raised his children within the context of Anglo-Virginian culture, suggesting that William was brought up as a gentleman. Beyond his primary education, William trained to become a church minister. His post-primary education included Greek, Latin, mathematics, and theology. William was well into training when the American Revolution sent him in a completely different direction.
In 1775, William Washington was 23 years of age with an incredibly acute sense of duty and of right and wrong. When Virginia began raising troops to resist Great Britain, William gave up his studies and life as a planter’s son to join the patriot cause. Patrick Henry delivered his Liberty or Death speech to the Virginia Convention in March. Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s governor, wisely removed gunpowder from the public warehouse in Williamsburg to prevent it from falling into “local” hands, which only aroused the patriots even more.
Subsequently, news arrived from Massachusetts detailing the Battles of Lexington Green and Concord. Like many of his fellow citizens in Stafford County, he was raised in the tradition of the Common Burden. He was among the first of Virginia’s youth to answer the call “to arms.” Already a member of the minutemen organization in Stafford County, he formed a militia company in the early summer. In Richmond, the convention created three infantry regiments commanded by Patrick Henry, William Woodford, and Hugh Mercer. On 12 September, at a meeting at the Spotsylvania Courthouse, local minutemen elected William Washington and Townshend Dade to serve as captains in Hugh Mercer’s 3rd Regiment of Infantry. Assisting Mercer was Lieutenant Colonel George Weedon and Major Thomas Marshall. Later that year, the regiment became part of Brigadier General Hugh Mercer’s Brigade of the Continental Army in New York and was assigned to the command of Major General Nathaniel Greene.
Fighting in the mid-Atlantic region, young Captain Washington commanded the 7th Company. Lieutenant James Monroe, later the 5th President of the United States, served as Washington’s second-in-command. During the Battle of Trenton, Captain Washington and his XO distinguished themselves by leading a charge against a battery of Hessian artillery. Washington and Monroe received serious wounds; both received the personal thanks of their Commander-in-Chief, General George Washington. While recovering from his injuries, the Continental Army advanced William Washington to the rank of major and, on 27 January 1777, provisionally assigned him to serve in the newly created 4th Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons.
During the night of 26 September 1778, the 3rd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons, serving under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Baylor, had found billeting in the town of Old Tappan, New Jersey. A town citizen with loyalist sentiments notified British forces, and Baylor’s command was attacked in their quarters while still asleep. Colonel Baylor, wounded in the lung by a British bayonet, was captured and taken prisoner. A short time later, Baylor’s XO, Major Alexander Clough, also injured, died of his wounds. In light of the loss of the regiment’s two principal command officers, Continental Army HQ advanced Major William Washington to Lieutenant Colonel and ordered him to assume command of the 3rd Dragoons.
Between September 1778 and the late summer of 1779, Colonel Washington recruited replacements and supervised their training. On 19 November, the Army HQ ordered Washington to join the command of Major General Benjamin Lincoln in Charleston, South Carolina.
Southern Department Fights
On March 10, 1780, Washington’s regiment joined forces with the remnants of the 1st Continental Light Dragoons at Bacon’s Bridge, South Carolina. His mission was to reconnoiter and screen against advancing British troops. On 26 March, Washington had his first encounter with the British Legion, a brigade-sized unit of dragoons under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. It was a minor victory near Rantowle’s Bridge on the Stono River. Afterward, on the Ashley River during the fight at Rutledge’s Plantation, Colonel Washington again bested a detachment of Tarleton’s Dragoons.
On 14 April 1780, Colonel Tarleton assaulted the encampment of General Isaac Huger at Monck’s Corner, successfully routing the Continental force (including Washington’s Dragoons). Washington’s losses included 15 dead, 17 wounded, 100 captured, and the loss of 83 horses.
Colonel Washington led his remaining troops across the Santee River to escape capture. The severe attrition of Washington’s command forced its amalgamation with the 1st Continental Light Dragoons under Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Walton White. While waiting to cross the flooded Santee River, British forces surprised and defeated Colonel White’s dragoons at Lenud’s Ferry on 6 May 1780. With Colonel White’s capture, command of the dragoons passed to Colonel Washington. Washington moved the regiment to North Carolina for recruitment, provision, and training when General Lincoln surrendered the southern army and the city of Charleston to Cornwallis on 12 May.
British forces defeated the reconstituted southern army, formed under General Horatio Gates, at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, on 16 August 1780. This loss opened up the south to British control. General Nathanael Greene soon replaced Gates, whose cowardice in the field permanently discredited his former service in the northern theater
General Greene divided his army between himself and General Daniel Morgan. Colonel Washington was placed under Morgan, who tasked Washington with conducting raids in western South Carolina. Washington’s two notable successes included capturing Rugeley’s Mill on 4 December. In this engagement, Washington bluffed 112 loyalists into surrendering a strongly fortified structure without firing a single shot. To achieve the bluff, Washington used a Quaker Gun — a felled tree placed in the wagon bed and shaped to look like a large cannon.
In the second engagement at Hammond’s Old Store in the Little River district, Colonel Washington defeated 250 Georgian loyalists, killing or wounding 150 men and capturing the remaining one-hundred troops.
Colonel Washington’s successes became a source of irritation to General Charles Cornwallis, who soon turned to Colonel Tarleton and ordered him to “chase down” General Morgan’s “flying corps.” Tarleton’s orders led directly to the Battle of Cowpens on 17 January 1781.
General Morgan’s battle plans called for Washington’s group of 80 Continental dragoons and 45 mounted Georgia infantry to serve as either a defensive or offensive unit (as the situation required). Washington’s first encounter with the enemy involved the rescue of a South Carolina militia unit as it was reloading behind the front lines of Morgan’s left flank. The unit was under an aggressive assault by Colonel Tarleton’s Legion. Colonel Washington crushed the attackers, regrouped, and then pursued the British left flank infantry. After repeated assaults by Washington, the Americans moved through the British infantry and attacked a small artillery position behind Tarleton’s front lines.
Surrendering troops create battlefield confusion. This is what happened when the main British infantry decided to surrender their arms after Tarleton attempted to withdraw. Washington, in close pursuit, found himself in an isolated position and, because of it, soon found himself the focus of an attack by Colonel Tarleton and two of his aides. The courageous Washington met Tarleton head-on, calling out to him, “Where is now the boasting Tarleton?”
A young coronet of the 17th Dragoons, Thomas Patterson, rode up to strike Washington but was shot by Washington’s orderly as Washington struck Tarleton with a blow from his sword. Colonel Tarleton returned the favor by shooting Washington in the leg, which luckily only creased his knee but also wounded Washington’s horse.
Colonel Tarleton turned his horse and withdrew from the engagement. Washington, whose temper had not yet cooled, pursued him for sixteen miles — eventually giving up the chase at Thickitty Creek, near the plantation of Adam Goudylock. For his valor at Cowpens, Colonel Washington received a Congressional silver medal.
After the Battle of Cowpens, Washington’s dragoons assisted the withdrawal of General Nathanael Greene to Dan River, Virginia, by providing rearguard actions against British forces under General Cornwallis. Subsequently, Colonel Washington returned to North Carolina as a vanguard for Greene’s re-emerging army.
In March 1781, Washington’s dragoons fought at the Battle of the Guilford Court House, Greensboro, North Carolina. This battle successfully fought as a defensive action gave General Cornwallis a victory — but an expensive one. The fight only lasted around 90 minutes, but in that time, Cornwallis gave up a quarter of his men to death or incapacitation. Upon learning of the battle’s details, Sir Charles James Fox, a British Member of Parliament, quipped that with another victory, such as at the Guilford Court House, the British Army in North America would be in ruins.
According to Cornwallis’ report, the British gave up three officers and 88 men of other ranks killed, with 24 officers and 374 men of other ranks wounded, with 25 men “missing in action.” Colonel Tarleton was one of the wounded officers.
The Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill (also, the Second Battle of Camden) occurred on 25 April 1781 when British forces under Major General Francis Rawdon assaulted Continental troops occupying Hobkirk’s Hill. After a fierce clash of arms, during which Colonel Washington could not assault Rawdon’s flank, General Green ordered a withdrawal, leaving Rawdon’s smaller force in possession of the hill. Despite the British victory, Rawdon eventually fell back to Camden, abandoned it, and withdrew to Charleston. Greene was willing to accept defeat in this and three other engagements for the longer-term benefit of depriving the British of their control of South Carolina beyond the city of Charleston.
The last Carolinas engagement during the American Revolution occurred at the Battle of Eutaw Springs. In early 1781, Major General Greene initiated the campaign to end British control over the South Carolina backcountry. His first objective was to capture a village designated as Ninety-Six. On 22 May, Greene laid siege to the fortified village — but its loyalist residents would not budge.
Within thirty days, Greene became aware that General Rawdon was leading reinforcement to offer relief to Ninety-Six. A Continental assault against the village was repelled, so to avoid having to confront Rawdon, General Green withdrew toward Charlotte, N.C.
General Rawdon did pursue Greene for several days but abandoned the pursuit because his men were exhausted and in need of resupply. Ninety-Six was the only remaining inland British outpost after the fall of Augusta. Unable to sustain the outpost, General Rawdon decided to burn the village and withdraw to Charleston. General Rawdon, being in poor health, decided to return to England, leaving command of Charleston in the hands of Colonel Alexander Stewart.
By mid-July, General Greene moved his exhausted army to a bivouac on the High Hills of Santee. The men needed the rest, and Greene needed a place to await the arrival of reinforcements.
On 13 August, Colonel Stewart led around 2,300 men to Thompson’s plantation (south of the Congaree River). He then fell back to Eutaw Springs on 27 August (about 2 miles east of present-day Eutawville). The Battle of Eutaw Springs was Colonel Washington’s final Revolutionary War action. Midway through the fight, Greene ordered Washington to assault a portion of the British line positioned in a blackjack thicket along Eutaw Creek. The order was not only stupid, but it was also a needless sacrifice of good cavalry: the thicket proved impenetrable and British fire repulsed Washington’s mounted charges. During the last charge, Washington’s mount was shot from under him, and he was pinned beneath his horse. British troops bayonetted Washington, and he was taken prisoner and held under house arrest until the end of the war.
On September 8, 1781, Washington’s final action was the Battle of Eutaw Springs, the last major battle in the Carolinas. Midway through the battle, Greene ordered Washington to charge a portion of the British line positioned in a blackjack thicket along Eutaw Creek. The thicket proved impenetrable and British fire repulsed the mounted charges. During the last charge, Washington’s mount was shot out from under him, and he was pinned beneath his horse. He was bayoneted, taken prisoner, and held under house arrest in the Charleston area for the remainder of the war. General Charles Cornwallis said of Colonel William Washington, “There could be no more formidable antagonist in a charge, at the head of his cavalry, than Colonel William Washington.”
The list of patriot officers of William Washington’s quality is very small. That Colonel Washington compares favorably with the most notable American Revolution heroes is indisputable — it is a shame that few Americans today know about this tremendously aggressive, tactically proficient, and strategically adept regimental commander.
Our schools teach that the American Revolutionary War ended with General Cornwallis’ surrender to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, on 19 October 1781. The worst of it is that it isn’t true. Considerable fighting occurred in the two years after Yorktown and even expanded to the European continent. After Yorktown, there were at least 200 additional fights in South Carolina alone — most often between Whig (patriot) and Tory (British loyalist) militias. Moreover, a violent civil war occurred between 1781 – 1783 as Indian tribes raged against each other, offering no quarter.
After Yorktown, the British embarked on an aggressive policy to reestablish its hold on the Caribbean. After Yorktown, the British confronted the combined forces of Spain, France, and the Dutch Republic. There was also the matter of French meddling in India, British mischief in Vermont, and the role of the Dutch navy in keeping the British “on alert.”
The last British soldier withdrew from the newly created United States on 25 November 1783 — three months after the signing of the instrument of peace (known as the Treaty of Paris of 1783) — a process that was begun in 1782, after Parliament voted to suspend military operations following Cornwallis’ surrender in late 1781.
Colonel William Washington met Jane Elliott of Sandy Hill, South Carolina, when she made his regimental battle flag, which he carried with him from the Cowpens to Eutaw Springs. Retained under arrest in Charleston through the end of 1782, Colonel Washington nevertheless made good use of his time. He and Jane Elliott were married on 21 April 1782. Washington, unable to inherit his father’s Virginia estate, became quite wealthy through marriage (as did his cousin George). Miss Elliott owned the Sandy Springs plantation and several other properties in St. Paul Parish.
In 1785, William and Jane Washington purchased a townhouse at 8 South Battery in Charleston. They pursued low-country farming and raised thoroughbred horses. William was elected to the state legislature between 1787 – 1804 and accepted the post of brigadier general of the state militia in 1794.
Following his presidency, George Washington retired to Mount Vernon to struggle with his predicament of being land-rich and cash poor. He had vast acreages in the Virginia piedmont but could not sell the land due to the encroachment of squatters. Ultimately, he grew restless in retirement, prompted by tensions with France. In 1798, as part of the continuation of the French Revolutionary Wars, French privateers began seizing American ships — the so-called Quasi-War that lasted until 1800.
On 4 July 1798, President John Adams nominated Washington to serve as a lieutenant general as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armies. President Washington accepted the post and served in it until his death 17 months later. His work involved planning for a provisional army without offering specific details (to avoid political implications). In recommending individuals to serve at high rank, Washington broke with the recommendations submitted by Thomas Jefferson. By this time, the two men had become enemies.
While serving as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army, Washington offered his cousin William a commission as brigadier general in the U.S. Army. William accepted the commission, particularly as it involved defensive works in South Carolina and Georgia, should the French attempt an invasion of the United States. During this period, William served as an officer on his cousin’s staff.
In his late 50s, William Washington became ill and suffered from a lingering ailment — likely cancer. He passed away on 6 March 1810, aged 58 years. He was survived by Jane, his wife, and their son and daughter (Elizabeth). Elizabeth was married to Major General Alexander Spotswood, the grandson of Colonial Virginia’s lieutenant governor.
Brigadier General William Washington — was one of America’s finest Revolutionary War officers.
Babits, L. E., and J. B. Howard. Long, Obstinate, and Bloody: The Battle of the Guilford Courthouse. The University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
Glen, J. The Washington’s: A Family History. Savas Publishing, 2014
Glickstein, D. After Yorktown: The final struggle for American Independence
Haller, S. E. William Washington: Cavalryman of the Revolution. Heritage Books, 2001.
Murphy, D. William Washington, American Light Dragoon: A Continental Cavalry Leader in the War of Independence. Westholme Publishing, 2014.
 Do not confuse the subject of this essay, William Washington (1752 – 1810), with a distant relative, William Augustine Washington (1757 – 1810). William Washington was George Washington’s second cousin once removed; William Augustine Washington was George Washington’s nephew.
 Beginning in 1774, minutemen were organized from within the ranks of colonial militia but trained specifically as an early form of special operations infantry. These men were the “rapid reaction” force of the colonial militia. They held themselves in readiness to report/respond to emergencies within moments of an alert. The name derived from the fact that they were expected to respond “within a minute” of an alert.
 Dr. Hugh Mercer was a Scot who eventually achieved the rank of Brigadier General in the Continental Army. He previously fought as a Jacobite in the Battle of Culloden, in the Seven Year’s War, and in the early battles of the American Revolution. He was killed in action at the Battle of Princeton.
 The “second-in-command” of an American military unit is variously referred to as “executive officer” or “deputy commander.” The executive officer is usually referred to as simply XO, while a deputy commander is generally referred to as “deputy.” When serving in temporary command, the XO or deputy will sign official documents as “Acting Commander.”
 The United States Army never had a cavalry component until 1861. Before then, the horse-mounted troop was referred to as dragoons. In effect, dragoons were horse-mounted infantry. They would ride into battle, dismount, and fight as infantry. After 1861, horse-mounted troops were called cavalry with a distinctly different mission.
 George Baylor previously served as General Washington’s aide-de-camp. The 3rd Dragoons often served as security escorts for Martha Washington, who accompanied her husband during his military campaigns, and also served as Washington’s reconnaissance force, collecting and reporting information about the disposition of British Forces.
 The British Legion was an organization recruited and formed in the colonies of British loyalists. A regimental-sized cavalry, the commander of the British Legion was Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.
 A British version of this fight can be found in the records of the 17th Dragoons (Ch. 33)
 The Battle of the Cowpens was significant because the Americans totally destroyed the Brigade of Dragoons under Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Such losses made the conflict a turning point in the war. General Morgan’s success came as a result of his effective employment of a double envelopment of Tarleton’s force. Of Tarleton’s 1,000 men, all of whom were British loyalists, 850 were killed or captured.
 Blackjack red oak is a deciduous tree growing about 15 meters tall.
 Balch, Thomas, ed., Letters, and papers relating chiefly to the provincial history of Pennsylvania. Applewood books, 2009, attributed to a letter written by Major William Jackson quoting General Lord Cornwallis.
 Such terms as patriot and loyalist are far too imprecise to use in any discussion about the American Revolution. Glickman suggests using the words Whig and Tory … so that everyone knows who did what. British loyalists were, after all, patriots as well.
Anyone who believes that the American Revolution was a war easily fought doesn’t know enough about American history. We might argue that the revolution first occurred as an idea in the heads of British citizens who began to wonder if they could forge their future without the interference of the king or parliament. Fighting the revolution was an entirely different matter. Still, before we get to that discussion, we need to explore what else was happening in the world besides men muttering over their mead in a Massachusetts pub about burdensome taxes.
In the last years of the Seven Years’ War (also called the French and Indian Wars), British fleets and armies ranged across the world stage, dismembering France and Spain’s colonial empires. But in London, from around 1750, British ministers had to consider the prospect of defending British territories from a wide range of enemies.
Looking at North America, it was logical to assume that some colonies could defend themselves, but there were questions about the other colonies. Nova Scotia would be a problem — French catholic priests would see to that. In any case, if the British knew anything about the French from the previous 400 years, it was that the French could not be trusted. One could always tell when a French diplomat was lying because his lips were moving. In any case, if the French seized Halifax, all the other British American colonies could be rolled up without much effort.
The Virginia colony was always reliable and well-populated with men who knew how to fight. Pennsylvania’s Quaker politicians would open their doors to the French without a quibble. No one knew where the ethnic German colonists would come down on the question of war with France. Georgia and South Carolina could not defend themselves against the Cherokee, much less French marines. In the West Indies, enslaved Black people outnumbered British Army regulars and colonists. The thought of a slave revolt was disturbing, indeed. This was only the tip of the iceberg.
Yes, the French Bourbons were threatening, but so too were the highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and North American Indians, and there was this ongoing and highly perturbing talk inside England about republicanism. British politicians decided it was time to act. Highlanders became the flower of the British Army, and Irish Catholics were recruited as well. In Pennsylvania, German colonists formed two regiments of Royal American infantry. Amazingly, 21,000 American colonists stepped up to defend the British colonies in 1758. Before 1763, most native Indian tribes had sided with the British. Arcadian troublemakers found themselves deported to Louisiana. There was even some talk of forming a pro-British French militia.
And yet, the preceding concerns were only half of the problem. North America had no four-lane highways to move large numbers of troops. Those troops would have to be transferred by ship if that were necessary. The Atlantic coastline was the only highway. Additionally, there were no “fast means of communication.” Coordinating widely dispersed military forces was difficult in the extreme.
The revolutionary campaigns were complex, made so by weather, climate, the distances between cities, thick foliage, and the lack of adequate roads to move troops, artillery, and supply wagons. The British Army was, in 1775, the world’s premier land army. Who, in their right mind, would challenge it?
In those days, armies depended on foraging to feed the men and animals. There was no question that the British Army could forage; the king owned everything — he could take what he needed. His subjects might be compensated, or they may not. The Continental army had to rely on the patriotic spirit of local farmers. A third of these farmers were British loyalists, with another one-third opportunists who would offer forage to whoever paid the highest.
The American Revolutionary War was a complicated series of campaigns. It is hard to imagine the distances in an age where automobiles can travel five hundred or more miles in a single day. It would take an American or British soldier 33 days to march 500 miles in 1775. Granted, the number of men who participated in the American Revolution pales compared to modern warfare, but the number of combatants was significant for those days. As with all armed conflicts, whatever could have gone wrong, did.
American land forces included (in total over seven years) 200,000 patriots. American naval forces included 106 Continental and State-owned ships. We don’t know how many men served in the navy, but Continental Marines had 132 officers and 2,000 enlisted men. The Americans were aided by 53 French navy ships and an unknown number of French land forces. Including all losses (Continental Army/State militia and civilian populations), the Americans gave up 70,000 war dead, 6,100 wounded in action, 17,000 losses from disease, and around 130,000 additional deaths attributed to smallpox.  The total of French allied dead was 2,112. Setting aside America’s war dead, the average life expectancy for a white male adult in 1780 was 39 years.
Opposing the Americans during the revolution were 48,000 British troops, 30,000 German troops, 25,000 loyalist troops, and 13,000 American Indians. What we know of British casualties is limited. Historians contend that British combat dead totaled 5,500 men; German allies lost 7,774 men, of which 1,800 died in battle. Nearly 5,000 German troops deserted in North America. Of British loyalists, 7,000 died during the American Revolution, including 1,700 combat dead and 5,300 from unspecified diseases.
American Marines were created upon the recommendation of the Naval and Marine Committees of the Second Continental Congress in October and November 1775. The officer commissioned to recruit the two Marine battalions was Samuel Nicholas, a native of Philadelphia. Nicholas was born in 1744 (d. 1790), the youngest of three children of Anthony and Mary Chute-Cowman Nicholas. Anthony was a blacksmith; Mary’s uncle Attwood Shute was the mayor of Philadelphia from 1755-58. Samuel graduated from the College of Philadelphia (present-day University of Pennsylvania) in 1759. On 28 November 1775, Sam Nicholas was commissioned by the Second Continental Congress to serve as Captain of Marines. He was the first officer commissioned in the Continental Naval Service.
Upon confirmation of his appointment, Captain Nicholas started planning his recruitment campaign around the number of ships that would require a complement of Marines. Captain Nicholas’ secondary assignment was the command of the Marine Detachment aboard USS Alfred. In this capacity, Captain Nicholas answered to Commodore Esek Hopkins.Alfred sailed on 4 January 1776 for Nassau (See also, The Marine’s First Amphibious Raid). Nicholas returned to Philadelphia in April 1776 and resumed command of the Marine battalions. In June, Congress promoted Nicholas to Major Commandant Continental Marine Corps.
In October 1776, the people of Philadelphia speculated that when British General Sir William Howe was tired of chasing patriots in New York, he would march his army to invade their fair city. Fearing such an eventuality, the Continental Congress organized committees and met with various members of the Pennsylvania legislature to plan a defense of the city. A Pennsylvania committee submitted its recommendations to the Continental War Board. They proposed that Congress permanently assign four companies of Marines in Pennsylvania or at Trenton to defend Philadelphia from British or Loyalist troops. The Pennsylvania committee also suggested an additional two Virginia militia battalions and a German militia battalion.
Contrary to the general concerns of Philadelphia citizens, British General William Howe was already engaged in Westchester County and, for the time being, posed no threat to Philadelphia. Major Nicholas and his staff continued recruiting and training Marines in Philadelphia through the fall of 1776. By then, the First Battalion was well-organized, disciplined, and (more or less) functional. Nicholas adequately provided for their nutritional needs and saw they were accorded comfortable billets. Still, some Marines deserted from their service responsibilities, with few returning to face the consequences.
Private Henry Hassan took his punishment but, within a month, deserted for a second time. Even then, the Marine Corps was not everyone’s cup of tea. One Marine who returned may have regretted his decision when, having been found guilty at a court-martial of desertion and quitting his post without authority, received fifty lashes on his bareback for desertion and twenty-one additional lashes of the whip for quitting his post.
The Marines Mobilize
Suddenly, in mid-November, Philadelphia was abuzz with rumors of an approaching British fleet. Congress directed the Marine Committee to arrange its naval forces in the Delaware River. Accordingly, USS Randolph was made ready for sea. Major Commandant Nicholas ordered Captain Shaw to select Marines from the First Battalion, prepare them for duty at sea, and report to the officer commanding the frigate.
Captain Shaw’s Marines reported to Randolph before the ship’s crew. In 1776, few mariners were interested in serving in the Continental Navy with British sloops of war roaming the American coastlines and taking station in busy seaports. The rumor of an approaching British fleet was only that; the fleet was actually several British merchantmen, but Randolph’s preparations continued.
Meanwhile, the land war was turning against General Washington. After defeats at Long Island, White Plains, Fort Washington, and Fort Lee, General Washington began his long retreat through New Jersey. He was in desperate need of veteran soldiers. The British Army’s march to Trenton posed a real threat to Philadelphia. By late November, General Washington was in a precarious situation; the British pushed him from Harlem Heights to Upper Westchester County. He crossed the Hudson on 13 November and began his painful and embarrassing withdrawal to Hackensack, Newark, Elizabeth Town, and Brunswick.
From Brunswick, Washington sent a letter to President (of Congress) John Hancock begging for immediate reinforcements. Hancock wanted to help, but with common knowledge that 10,000 British troops were enroute, there were no long queues of volunteers at the recruiting offices. Washington led his under-staffed army out of Brunswick on 2 December, marching them through Princeton and finally halting them on the banks of the Delaware River.
When General Howe occupied Brunswick, everyone still above the ground inside Philadelphia went into cardiac arrest. All Philadelphia shops and schools closed by order of the Council of Public Safety. All able-bodied citizens and militia took up arms to defend the city. What actually happened was that the good citizens of Philadelphia, able-bodied or not, ignored the Council of Public Safety, loaded their wagons, and deserted the city. There was much to accomplish in such a short period of time, and defending the city was not very high on anyone’s agenda.
Once city officials realized their fellow citizens were gutless wonders, they urgently appealed to the Congress for Continental Marines. Responding to the will of Congress, Major Nicholas detailed three companies of Marines for the defense of Pennsylvania. Company officers inspected their men and readied them for service in the field. With orders to report to General Washington, Major Nicholas marched his Marines down to the waterfront to board gondolas.
The Marines’ departure from Philadelphia did nothing to bolster the morale of its few remaining citizens. While Major Nicholas proceeded to General Washington’s camp, city officials formed a regiment of militia — three battalions — in all, around 1,200 men. These were citizens who didn’t get away from Philadelphia fast enough. They were well-clothed but poorly armed. Within a few days, the regimental commander, Colonel John Cadwalader, was ordered to proceed and report to General Washington.
General Washington was happy to receive reinforcements — even Marines — but he wasn’t sure what to do with them. This problem was solved when Colonel Cadwalader arrived on 5 December. Since Cadwalader and Major Nicholas were Philadelphians, Washington asked Cadwalader to absorb the Marine battalion into his regiment, along with the USS Delaware and USS Washington crews under captains Charles Alexander and Thomas Read. Colonel Cadwalader’s regiment became a de facto brigade with these additional forces.
However, General Washington had far more on his plate than personnel issues. For one thing, Washington was puzzled by General Howe’s delay in Brunswick. Washington decided to march his men toward Princeton on 7 December. Informants cautioned Washington that he was walking into a collision with the British. Since it was not the time or place of his choosing, General Washington again retreated to Trenton and withdrew across the Delaware River. In this process, Washington ordered his men to remove or destroy anything valuable to the enemy.
General Washington did not know that Similar problems plagued general Howe. He did not have timely or reliable information about his enemy. Wisely, Howe was cautious in his pursuit of Washington but unwisely divided his force into two corps. The first, under Major General James Grant, Howe ordered to Trenton. The second corps, under Major General Charles Cornwallis, General Howe ordered to Maidenhead — a position halfway between Trenton and Princeton.
The vanguard of Grant’s force reached Trenton just as the last of Washington’s army crossed the river into Pennsylvania. General Cornwallis’ troops reached the East bank of the river 15 miles above Trenton, but Washington had wisely removed all boats from that location and positioned his field canon on the west bank. These measures brought General Grant’s advance to a screeching halt.
Once General Howe became aware that Grant and Cornwallis lost their momentum, he abandoned his immediate plan for a Pennsylvania campaign. Instead, he ordered Grant and Cornwallis to establish winter camps. Ultimately, these cantonments stretched from Hackensack to Burlington on the Delaware River. General Howe then went to his winter camp.
Observing British forces constructing bridges and river-side docks, Washington logically concluded that Howe’s delay was only temporary. Desperate for reliable knowledge concerning British activities, General Washington sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s Council of Safety asking them if it would be possible to send Commodore Thomas Seymour upriver to reconnoiter the area. He also ordered Colonel Cadwalader to send a battalion to Dunk’s ferry. The battalion’s two-fold mission was to guard the crossing and scout the area of Bordentown across the Delaware River.
On 11 December 1776, Hessian Colonel Carl E. U. von Donop departed Trenton with a force large enough to seize Bordentown and Burlington. Von Donop encountered only light resistance from local militia, but his presence forced Washington’s scouting party back across the river. The Germans had no problem occupying Burlington, but local Loyalists complained that his presence would only attract the attention of the Continental Navy. Von Donop organized a delegation of Burlington citizens to confer with Commodore Seymore to receive his assurances and gain information from Seymour that might benefit General von Donop. Meanwhile, Hessian troops began patrolling inside the town.
Commodore Seymour met with citizen delegates and, to his credit, was direct in response to their inquiries. Seymour would have no sympathy for Burlington if von Donop occupied it. As soon as he observed the Hessian town patrols, Seymour opened fire, forcing von Donop’s army to withdraw northward and aggravating the ulcers of the townspeople.
On 12 December, Marines from USS Hancock, serving under Marine Captain William Shippin, occupied Burlington. Reports from Seymour and his scouts confirmed Washington’s suspicions. Consequently, Washington established a defensive perimeter on the West Bank of the Delaware south of Burlington. Brigadier General Philemon Dickinson secured Yardley’s Ferry and tied his defense line with that of Brigadier General James Ewing. Colonel Cadwalader’s force tied in with Ewing from Hoop’s mill to Dunk’s Ferry.
While General Washington created his line of defense, militia General Israel Putnam supervised the defense of Philadelphia. In the middle of these preparations, such as they were, HMS Roebuck anchored just inside Delaware Bay. Roebuck’s position prohibited ships from reaching the open sea. Congressional delegates ordered the Marine Committee to send warnings of Roebuck’s station to local merchantmen.
The Committee then considered the employment of Randolph and Hornet — both ship’s captains received instructions placing them under General Putnam’s orders. Congress offered a $10,000 bounty to the crew and Marines of Randolph if Captain Nicholas Biddle could bypass HMS Roebuck and get into the open sea.
Having done its duty in defense of Philadelphia, Congress promptly removed itself to Baltimore. Congressional delegate Robert Morris, however, remained behind as a congressional liaison to General Putnam. He advised Putnam to send Randolph and Hornet to sea without delay. Putnam agreed and ordered both frigates readied for sea. Morris’ idea was to send Biddle to sea in search of British ships operating off the coast of New York. Despite Biddle’s recruitment of sailors from the city prison to man his ship, he did not have a full crew complement and was reluctant to shove off without an entire crew.
Captain James Nicholson, commanding Hornet, received different instructions. Since Hornet had a barely adequate crew, Morris and Putnam ordered Nicholson to sail to South Carolina and, once clearing the capes, proceed to Martinique, where he might find crewmen and military stores needed for Washington’s army.
Both Continental ships set sail on 14 December, setting a course for Hog Island. The following day, a messenger vessel overtook them with instructions to put into Chester to await the arrival of merchantmen destined for France. While anchored in Chester, another boat arrived from Philadelphia, recalling both ships. After Morris learned that HMS Falcon and two bomb ketches (ships rigged for firing mortars) had arrived to reinforce Roebuck, he recalled Randolph and Hornet, fearing their loss to the Royal Navy.
Morris was also concerned about Captain C. Alexander’s frigate Delaware; he asked Washington to release the ship back to Philadelphia. Colonel Cadwalader, under whose command Delaware was placed, concurred. Major Nichols formed a detachment of Marines for service on Delaware, placing them under the command of First Lieutenant Daniel Henderson and Second Lieutenant David Love. The shifting of officers led to the temporary appointment of Sergeant James Coakley to First Lieutenant. The loss of 20 Marines from Cadwalader’s command had little effect on Washington because, on 14 December, the British had gone into winter quarters.
The Marines under Major Nicholas numbered around 130 officers and men. While under Cadwalader’s command, the Marines shared the usual service duties with the brigade, including guard duty. Cadwalader, well aware of General Washington’s concerns about gaining intelligence about enemy movements/intentions, assigned his guard units the additional task of obtaining information and passing it up the chain of command. Guard units were also instructed to harass the enemy whenever possible.
Washington appreciated Cadwalader’s foresight. He constantly fretted over the possibility of a sudden attack by Howe’s forces, particularly since Washington’s army was weak and under-equipped. An army collapse at that point would be a disaster for the patriot cause. Of additional concern to Washington was that most of his army’s enlistments would expire on 31 December 1776. These factors prompted General Washington to seize the initiative against Howe while he still had an army. News of Howe’s withdrawal and the scattering of his forces encouraged Washington’s line of thought. By 24 December, General Washington had formulated a plan for offensive operations.
Washington’s primary objective was Trenton. His plan called for crossing the Delaware River at three locations, executed by Cadwalader’s brigade, Hitchcock, Ewing, and a militia company under Captain Thomas Rodney. Captain Rodney would cross the river near Bristol and join Colonel Griffin, who was already in New Jersey. Together, this force would march on Trenton and join Washington’s main body. Ewing would cross the river at Trenton Ferry to the north of Cadwalader. Ewing’s primary task was to capture the Assunpink Bridge to prevent the Hessians from escaping Trenton. Washington commanded 2,400 troops and decided to cross at McKinley’s Ferry, ten miles above Trenton. Once his three brigades reformed in New Jersey, Washington intended to march on Princeton and Brunswick.
Trenton was under the control of Hessian Colonel Johann Gottlieb. In keeping with German tradition, Gottlieb’s regiment celebrated Christmas with feasting and strong drink. Washington readied his men in Pennsylvania, but a fierce winter storm set in as the day progressed. Snowfall was dense, and the temperature was agonizingly bitter. Nevertheless, by 1800, Washington had sent his advance force across the Delaware River. Poor weather, dropping temperatures, and coagulating river ice impeded Washington’s operations by midnight. By then, Washington’s operation was already three hours behind schedule.
The army wasn’t assembled and ready to march until 0400. Throughout the night, the storm worsened. General Washington divided his command into two corps. Brigadier General Nathanael Greene led the first of these toward the left and seized the Pennington Road, while Colonel Arthur St. Clair proceeded southeast, down the river road.
Within a mile of Trenton, Greene deployed his men to form a half-circle around the town. Greene’s approach alerted the Hessians. A number of pickets retreated to an area north of town. Washington launched his main assault at around 07:00. Patriot artillery opened fire into the ranks of Hessians, whom Gottlieb had formed to repel the patriot force. The barrage decimated the Hessians, and they withdrew to the edge of town. German officers rallied their men, reformed the ranks, ordered “fix bayonets,” and started back to confront Washington’s force. Soon aware that they were outnumbered, the Hessians began a fighting withdrawal. Unhappily for the Germans, they withdrew into elements of Ewing’s force at the Assunpink Bridge. With their officers dying right and left, the German troops became confused and soon surrendered.
The second group of Hessians rallied under Major von Dechow to re-take the bridge, but they were soon defeated. The battle lasted barely two hours. Washington suffered the loss of one man killed and three wounded. The Hessians lost 22 killed, 83 wounded, and 891 captured. Six hundred Germans managed to escape capture and moved rapidly toward Bordentown.
As it turned out, Washington’s force assaulted the Hessians without the support of either Cadwalader or Ewing’s full complement. As Cadwalader attempted to cross the Delaware River, the storm increased in intensity; dangerous ice impeded his movements. Out of concern that the storm might cause the loss of his canon, Cadwalader delayed sending his main force across the Delaware River.
General Ewing faced the same predicament and, with the exception of his initial advance guard, made no further attempt to cross the river. General Washington, meanwhile, was unaware of any of these circumstances. Having defeated the Hessians, his mission accomplished, General Washington returned across the Delaware River. He dispatched a force to accompany his prisoners to Philadelphia and resumed his defense of the West Bank.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Robert Morris had no success recruiting crews for Pennsylvania’s militia Navy. Service at sea with low pay may have been too much to ask. Captain Biddle grew obstinate about not having a full crew, but with Washington’s victory at Trenton, there was no longer a reason to send Randolph to sea.
Late in the day on 26 December, General Washington received a letter from Cadwalader explaining his reasons for failing to complete his mission. When General Cadwalader wrote his letter, he did not know where Washington was. He informed Washington that he intended to cross the Delaware River “the following morning.” By then, Washington had returned to Newtown, Pennsylvania. Washington’s reply asked Cadwalader to delay crossing the river until the two men could confer. Of course, except for one regiment under Colonel Hitchcock, Cadwalader had already crossed.
Having received General Washington’s instructions, Colonel Hitchcock canceled his planned movement across the river. He dispatched a messenger to Cadwalader advising him of recent events and instructions. Cadwalader conferred with his officers. Ultimately, Cadwalader decided to remain in New Jersey and make an attack against Burlington. He sent Colonel Joseph Reed ahead with a small scouting force. At 0400 on 28 December, General Cadwalader marched to Bordentown and took possession of the military stores abandoned by the Hessians. There being no food for his men, however, Cadwalader proceeded to Crosswicks, where he located food stores.
Major Nicholas’ Marines, being attached to Cadwalader’s brigade, did not participate in the Battle of Trenton, but they would not have long to wait for their first taste of land warfare. From Crosswicks, Cadwalader rejoined Washington outside of Princeton on the night of 2 January 1777. Washington attached Cadwalader’s brigade to Brigadier General Greene’s Division. At dawn on the morning of 3 November, Major Nicholas’ Marines arrived at the outskirts of Princeton. Green placed the Marines in reserve.
General Washington’s plan called for a dawn assault on Princeton, but at dawn, he was still two miles from the town. Intending to delay Cornwallis, Washington sent 350 men under Brigadier General Hugh Mercer to destroy the bridge over Stony Brook. Shortly before 0800, Washington wheeled his army to the right through Clarke’s farm and proceeded to enter Princeton through an undefended section.
En route to Stony Brook, Mercer’s brigade encountered two British infantry regiments and a cavalry unit under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mawhood. This collision of combatants was the initiating engagement in the Battle of Princeton. Mercer and his men put up a stout defense against overwhelming forces. The British, mistaking Mercer for Washington, quickly surrounded him and demanded his surrender. Incensed, Mercer drew his sword and attacked his captors. Defending themselves, the enemy beat him to the ground and bayoneted him repeatedly.
With Mercer’s executive officer dead, junior officers and troops became disorganized. Having observed the fight, General Washington rallied what troops remained of Mercer’s force and pushed the British back.
Upon hearing the clatter of muskets, Brigadier General Cadwalader led his 1,100 men against Colonel Mawhood, whose men at the time were disorganized. Mawhood rallied his men, reorganized them, and put them into ranks for an assault or defense. Cadwalader’s brigade was mostly composed of untrained, inexperienced, poorly armed militia. Nicholas’ Marines occupied the brigade’s right flank, but observing Mawhood’s battle line, the militia on the left began to falter.
General Washington, observing Cadwalader’s hesitance, ordered Colonel Edward Hand to move his sharpshooters forward to the right of the Marines. Washington courageously rode amongst the young militiamen and encouraged them. Colonel Hitchcock’s regiment soon arrived and took a position to Colonel Hand’s right. The Americans advanced against Mawhood’s left and center, forcing the British to withdraw and scatter. Despite Mawhood’s efforts to rally his men, the British line was defeated.
Washington’s Continentals controlled Princeton within an hour, and the British withdrew to Maidenhead. Washington estimated enemy casualties were around 500 incapacitated and 100 left dead on the field. Of his own, Washington reported 30-40 slain, including Brigadier General Mercer, Colonel John Haslet, Captain Daniel Niel, Ensign Anthony Morris, Jr., and Marine Captain William Shippin.
The Battle of Princeton was the first time in the Revolution that General Washington’s army saw the fleeing backs of British Redcoats — and the Continental Marines had their first taste of land battle. General Howe regarded Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton as minor inconveniences, but to the Americans, having taken on the world’s greatest land army, the victories proved that the British could be beaten. In writing of the American victories at Trenton and Princeton, modern British historian Sir George Trevelyan observed, “It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world.”
Collins, V. L. A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of the British and Hessians at Princeton, 1776-1777. New York: Arno Press, 1968.
Fischer, D. H. Washington’s Crossing. Oxford University Press, 2006.
Ketchum, R. The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton. Holt Publishing, 1999.
McCullough, D. 1776. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
Smith, C. Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution, 1775-1783. Washington: Headquarters U. S. Marine Corps, 1975.
 Most of the 17,000 dead due to disease involved Americans imprisoned on British prison ships. British prison ships were obsolete, captured, or damaged ships used to house American prisoners of war. Conditions aboard these ships were appalling; far more men died as British prisoners than died in actual combat. The men languished in frigid conditions without adequate nourishment or clean water. According to historian Edwin G. Burrows, disease and starvation killed half of those taken on Long Island and as many as two-thirds of those captured at Fort Washington in 1776 — a realistic estimate of between 2,000 and 2,500 men in the space of two months. British guards harassed and abused the men constantly. Of the total, 10,000 men died from simple neglect. When they died, the British simply threw their bodies overboard into the New York harbor. Well over 1,000 prisoners were transported to England, where they performed forced labor in the mines. The British released some prisoners after they agreed to serve in the British Navy.
 Commodore was an honorary title (not a formal rank) bestowed on navy captains serving in command of two or more vessels of the Continental (later U. S.) Navy. Esek Hopkins was forced out of the Navy in 1778.
 There were around 80 Marine privates in a company and five companies of Marines in a battalion. It is amazing to imagine that the war board imagined that ten companies of Marines could defend against one or more British regiments.
 A Revolutionary War (period) gondola (also a gunboat) was a 54-foot, 29-ton boat armed with a single 24-pound bow canon.
 During the period from the Revolutionary War to the end of World War II, the Army operated under the War Department, and the naval forces operated under the Navy Department. When Nicholas reported to General Washington, the Army Commander-in-Chief was uncertain that the naval forces were reliable (or useful) — one problem was that they had no obligation to obey Washington’s orders. They were in the Navy Department with a completely different chain of command.
 On 6 July 1776, Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety authorized the purchase of ships for the defense of Philadelphia. By October, thirteen small ships had been constructed, six of which were operational by August: Bulldog, Burke, Camden, Congress, Dickinson, Effingham, Experiment, Franklin, Hancock, Ranger, and Warren. Deciding overall command of the fleet was contentious, however. The first commodore was Thomas Caldwell, who resigned due to ill health. Caldwell was replaced by Samuel Davidson, a junior captain whose appointment ahead of more senior men nearly caused a mutiny of officers. Davidson was removed from naval service and replaced by Thomas Seymour. Captain John Hazelwood objected to serving under Seymour owing to his advanced age. Eventually, the Committee of Safety removed Seymour and appointed Hazelwood in his place.
 This reflects that even in these early days of American Marines, the Marine Corps placed tremendous trust and confidence in their noncommissioned officers and offered the most exceptional among them advancement into the officer ranks.
 Washington promoted Cadwalader to Brigadier General.
 Mercer, later discovered on the battlefield, was rushed to the home of two Quaker women. They nursed Mercer for nine days until he passed away.
 Actual British casualties were 270 men of all ranks.
(b) The part of the mind that meditates between the conscious and unconscious, responsible for reality testing and personal identity.
A military aviator with an inadequate grasp of aeronautics, who doesn’t know the capabilities and limitations of his aircraft type, a combat pilot who hasn’t mastered air combat maneuvering, or an airman who runs out of luck, is likely only to kill himself. On the other hand, an inadequate field commander may very well die, but he is just as likely to kill hundreds or thousands of his men in the process.
No one doubts the stress experienced by a combat pilot, and no one should believe that it is an easy matter to command troops in the field, either. A good leader, whether in the air or on the ground, must know their profession — but more than that, they must know themselves. A pilot must never think of himself as better than his aircraft; a ground commander must never think of himself as better than his least experienced troops. We expect our pilots and ground commanders to demonstrate confidence, not overconfidence.
Bernard Law Montgomery
According to his account, Bernard Montgomery was a horrid child made that way by his equally despicable mother and a father who was gone from home for long periods. When Maud Montgomery died in 1949, her son Bernard refused to attend her funeral. Bernard had become a bully toward his peers, including those at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. It was something he should have grown out of long before he reached college, and his violent behavior nearly resulted in his expulsion from Sandhurst. Nevertheless, he graduated in 1908, commissioned a second lieutenant with the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Later that year, Montgomery posted with his battalion in India.
Four years later, Montgomery served as battalion adjutant at Shorncliffe Army Camp, a training base in Kent, which served as a training/staging base during the First World War. Montgomery moved to France with his battalion in August 1914. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment became part of the 10th Brigade, 4th British Infantry Division. In mid-October, he was twice wounded at Méteren, Belgium, and cited for conspicuous and gallant leadership. In 1915, Montgomery served as Brigade Major (Temporary) with the 112th Brigade and later with the 104th Brigade. Between 1916-17, Montgomery served as a staff officer with the 33rd Division and the IX Corps, Plumer’s Second Army. After the war, the Army reverted Montgomery to captain but appointed him to brevet major and command of the 17th Service Battalion.
When the British Army passed Montgomery over for attending the Staff College, placing in jeopardy any hope he had for permanent promotion or command, he directly appealed to the Commander-in-Chief, asking to have his name added to the list.
After Montgomery graduated, the Army appointed him to serve as Brigade Major, 17th Infantry Brigade, located in County Cork, Ireland, during the Irish War of Independence. Montgomery did not believe the British could defeat the insurgency without resorting to harsh measures, but he also thought the better course of action would be to grant self-government to Ireland.
In May 1923, Montgomery was promoted to major and assigned to command an infantry company in his parent battalion. From 1926 to 1929, he served as Deputy Assistant Adjutant at Staff College (Camberley) while serving as a temporary lieutenant colonel.
After his wife died in 1937, Brigadier Montgomery immersed himself in his military duties. His unhappy childhood and the tragedy of his wife’s death likely contributed to his eccentricities and inferiority complex. These factors made him over-compensate for his self-perceived inadequacies and drove him to assume the role of an overbearing bully or tyrant. His intolerance of “lesser men” and constant suspicion that others were plotting against him produced a paranoid man who hardly anyone could tolerate, professionally or socially.
If there was one agreement among Montgomery’s associates, peers, and antagonists alike, it was that he was a difficult man to like. British Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, a peer, could not understand why Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower, didn’t fire Montgomery for his insufferable arrogance and insubordination. Instead, Eisenhower tolerated Montgomery even though he was so full of himself that it frequently crossed the line into psychotic behavior. The evidence for this was Montgomery’s repudiation of everything the Allied staff knew in 1944 about conducting successful military operations. His stubbornness resulted in the combat deaths of good men — about which Montgomery seemed to care little.
It is difficult to know which of these generals hated the other more, Patton or Montgomery. Their disputes, in the field and the press, have become the subject of many books and magazine articles. Scholars who admired either of these men offered continuous praise; critics saw the squabbles as mean and petty, more focused on their egos than the sacred duty of leading men in combat.
A Californian by birth, Patton had ties to the Old South; his grandfather was killed in 1864 while serving as a Confederate colonel. He attended the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and the US Military Academy (USMA). He was an Olympic athlete and an early advocate of mechanized warfare. Like Montgomery, Patton sought fame throughout his long career. He possessed a legendary temper and could not abide unmanly behavior, leading to two incidents of slapping low-ranking soldiers. The only difference between Patton and Montgomery was that Patton exhibited a superiority complex and was behaviorally less eccentric.
Toward Market Garden
In the weeks following D-Day, the speed of the Allied advance across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands produced two false impressions among Allied leaders. The first was that the Allied forces were winning against the Germans, and the second was that the German army was crumbling. In September 1944, neither of these was true. Moreover, rapid advancement produced three crises: the first was that the advancing armies were spread too thin, the second was that the advancing troops outpaced their logistics train, and the third was that the front-line troops were exhausted. All these conditions were dangerous in the extreme, not to mention foolhardy, as Allied forces approached Germany’s formidable Siegfried Defensive Line.
Relationships between Montgomery, Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton, became strained. By early September 1944, a crack developed within the Allied command. Montgomery became convinced that he alone could win the war and achieve it before Christmas 1944.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew the United Kingdom needed its alliance with the United States, so he supported General Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander. President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew that maintaining a healthy partnership with the British would make them strong allies after the war.
Montgomery planned to bypass the German Siegfried Line by executing an allied envelopment into Germany through The Netherlands. Neither General Patton nor General Bradley could support Montgomery’s plan arguing that it was logistically unsupportable.
Undeterred, Field Marshal Montgomery devised a plan of action in two parts: Operation Market and Operation Garden. Operation Market would employ airborne forces behind enemy lines to seize German-held bridges. Operation Garden would push land and armor forces through The Netherlands, across the bridges, and into Germany. Together, the plan was called Market Garden.
Of the airborne units, Montgomery planned on 40,000 men parachuting into Germany. The units earmarked for this operation were the 101st U.S. Airborne (assigned to seize five bridges), the 82nd U.S. Airborne (responsible for one bridge), the British 1st Airborne, and the Polish 1st Independent Airborne Brigade (actually focused on two bridges). The two critical elements for the success of Montgomery’s plan were (a) seizing the bridges from the Germans and (b) holding them.
Americans back home had their favorite military heroes; some adored Eisenhower, who never held a combat command. Other Americans idolized Patton, the epitome of a combat officer and a bull in a fine China shop. Still, others supported Omar Bradley, the so-called “soldier’s general.” The British needed their heroes, as well. Political pressure pushed Eisenhower to appoint Montgomery as Commander 1st Allied Airborne Army. General Eisenhower was fully aware that Montgomery was working on a plan, but Eisenhower (later supported by his staff) claimed that he didn’t know any of the details of Market Garden.
As an Army commander, Montgomery did not believe he needed to obtain Eisenhower’s permission to proceed. In the aftermath of the Market-Garden disaster — even well after the war, Montgomery continued to claim that Eisenhower had approved his plan. Every success in combat has a proud father; every disaster in war is a red-headed stepchild.
Was Field Marshal Montgomery delusional? Evidence shows that Eisenhower “approved in principle” Montgomery’s three-pronged attack. Still, there is no evidence that Eisenhower gave his final approval or that Montgomery asked for one. Still, one would think that the appropriation of thousands of allied aircraft would have required Eisenhower’s approval.
Field Marshal Montgomery named Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Arthur Montague (“Boy”) Browning as Commander 1st Airborne Corps and Deputy Commander, First Allied Airborne Army, during Operation Market Garden. Browning was a Montgomery sycophant who knew as much about generalship as he did about airborne operations. Browning shared many of Montgomery’s less appreciated traits: he was argumentative, arrogant, and full of himself. American officers didn’t like Browning and, as important, didn’t trust him. The relationship between Browning and US Army Air Corps Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton was toxic.
When General Browning finally revealed his plan to the Royal Air Force staff on 10 September 1944, the RAF raised questions that were similar to those posed by General Brereton — questions about feasibility, logistics, and Northern European weather patterns. One early problem was that in that part of Europe in September, there was insufficient daylight to conduct two airborne airlift operations in 24 hours. Moreover, if Montgomery expected allied air cover for his assault force, then nighttime operations were out of the question. A second issue was that General Browning expected C-47 aircraft to pull two fully manned glider craft. Such an experiment was never tested. General Brereton quite correctly refused to allow it.
Additionally, the Northern European weather pattern in late September is inconducive to large-scale airborne operations — or the logistics footprint required to pull it off. In any case, the RAF and USAAC urged “Boy” Browning to reconsider his assault plan. Browning refused, and when he did, the allied air forces refused to drop airborne troops closer than eight miles from Arnhem. To do so, British and American air corps commanders argued, would subject the air forces to unacceptable risks.
During the operational planning phase of Market Garden, Dutch resistance leaders warned Montgomery that while the German army was withdrawing from coastal Europe, the Nazis were neither defeated nor dispirited. Moreover, the resistance argued, it was foolhardy to march so many men 64 miles up a corridor firmly in German hands.
Major General Roy Urquhart, commanding the British 1st Airborne Division, communicated his misgivings about Market Garden to Lieutenant General Browning. Urquhart, who until then had never controlled an airborne unit, was cautioned by Browning about the effects of defeatism on unit morale. After landing outside Arnhem, Urquhart discovered that after protecting Allied landing fields, he would have no more than a single brigade (a third of his force) to seize and hold the Arnhem Bridge. As events unfolded, only one allied unit reached the Arnhem Bridge: the British 44th Parachute Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Frost.
There were other operational disasters, as well. None of Urquhart’s high-frequency radios were working; he had no means of communicating with higher headquarters and could not receive intelligence reports from his subordinate units. Urquhart was operating in the dark.
Market Garden was no cakewalk for the Americans, either. Of the five bridges assigned to the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, the Germans destroyed two — which produced a bottleneck restricting the movement of Allied forces across the Rhine. When the American commander learned about the two destroyed bridges, General Matthew Ridgeway slowed his pace of advance. This decision allowed German forces more time to prepare their defensive works.
Brigadier General James M. Gavin, commanding the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, received orders from Browning to secure the Grosbeak Heights southeast of Nijmegen. It was an order Gavin could not obey because, given shortages of boats and ammunition, he could only provide a single battalion of the 504th Parachute Regiment to hold the Nijmegen Bridge.
This operational and logistical planning failure allowed the Germans to reinforce a vital bridge, which delayed strengthening or relieving the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. Gavin’s 504th Parachute Regiment heroically seized the bridge across the Waal River, but by that time, the Germans had already killed or captured the men holding the bridge at Arnhem.
Aftermath and Conclusion
We remember Operation Market Garden as a colossal failure. It was poorly conceived, inadequately planned, incompetently directed, and overly ambitious. Montgomery/Brown failed to consider the most basic yet vital factors of warfare. Montgomery underestimated the enemy’s strength, capability, disposition, and fighting spirit. Moreover, Market Garden was logistically unsupportable, the terrain was ill-suited for corps-size operations, and weather patterns were ill-disposed to airborne operations. Montgomery’s failure was more than negligent; it was malfeasant.
Beyond losing 17,000 men to this poorly planned and executed fiasco, Market Garden had other consequences. For instance, in seeking to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine, the Allied forces rushed offensive operations on three fronts in the south of the Netherlands. To secure shipping to the vital port of Antwerp, the Allies advanced northwards and westwards. The Canadian First Army seized the Scheldt Estuary. Separately, Operation Aintree was designed to seize and secure the banks of the Meuse as a natural boundary for the established salient. Aintree became a protracted battle, which eventually included Operation Overloon. Operation Pheasant expanded the Market Garden salient westward. The German counter-offensive intended to halt Allied use of the port of Antwerp, split the Allied lines, encircle four allied armies, and force a negotiated peace settlement. In the aftermath of Market Garden, the Allied rush to victory resulted in over 90,000 men killed, wounded, or captured and the loss of 733 tanks and 1,000 aircraft.
Another unhappy consequence of Market Garden was the Dutch famine of 1944-45. Dutch workers went on strike during the battle to aid the Allied assault. Germany forbade food transportation in retribution, and in the following winter, more than 20,000 Dutch citizens were starved to death.
A healthy ego is as essential to field commanders as for high-performance jet pilots. Montgomery did not have a healthy ego. Instead, the field marshal appears to have been a tormented man — one who may have suffered from Asperger’s Disorder for most of his life and a man who regularly relied on bluster and position to mask severe deficiencies as a field general. It is one thing to make a costly mistake — our senior combat commanders are, after all, human beings with strengths and weaknesses — and tragic mistakes do happen in wars. But it is quite another matter when a field commander risks the lives of thousands of men knowing that he’s exceeded his capability and then masks that failure by pretending there was no failure or trying to blame it on subordinate officers/commands. This, I believe, describes Bernard Montgomery. Browning was another matter altogether, but the men who served in the 1st Airborne Army in September 1944 deserved far better men to lead them.
Clark, L. Arnhem: Operation Market Garden, September 1944. Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing, 2002.
Hoyer, B. K. Operation Market Garden: The Battle for Arnhem. Defense Technical Information Center, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, 2008
 In the British Army, a brigade major serves the same function as a Brigade Executive Officer in the American Army; supervision of the several staff sections of the Brigade: Administration, Operations/Training, Intelligence, logistics, and special staff sections. The brigade major usually held the rank of major (even if only a temporary advancement), intentionally ranked below officers commanding battalions. The Brigade Commander directed his battalions, and the Brigade Major directed the Brigade Commander’s staff.
 If anyone in Europe knew about airborne operations, it was Lewis Brereton, whose entire career involved air assault operations.
 Robert Elliott (Roy) Urquhart (1901-88) fought with distinction at Arnhem, but in this battle, his division lost 75% of his men and was subsequently withdrawn from further combat service during World War II. Major General Sir Richard Gale, Commander, 6th Airborne Division agreed with Urquhart’s assessment of the likely consequences of Market Garden, but Montgomery/Browning ignored him, as well.
 An SS training battalion was operating adjacent to the intended landing field.
 John Dutton Frost (1912-93) served with distinction with the parachute forces in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. He commanded the 44th Parachute Battalion and was responsible for seizing the Arnhem Bridge and holding it against an entire German Panzer Division for four days.
 Supreme Allied Headquarters received numerous reports about German troop movements, including the identity of German units. Eisenhower was so concerned that he sent this information to Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith to raise the issue with Montgomery. Montgomery dismissed Eisenhower’s/Smith’s concerns and refused to alter his plan for landing airborne units at Arnhem. Even when briefed by his own staff intelligence officer, who showed him photographic evidence of armor units at Arnhem, Browning dismissed his evidence out of hand — and then ordered the intelligence officer placed on sick leave owing to his “nervous strain and exhaustion.”
On 8 May 1945, as the United Kingdom and the United States began celebrating Victory in Europe (VE) Day, a 91-year-old British hero took his final breath at his home in Kent, England. His name was Frank Edward Bourne. Few people know about him today, but by the end of this post, I hope my readers will know about this remarkable man.
Frank was born in Balcombe, Sussex, southeast England, on 27 April 1854. He was the last of eight sons born to James Bourne and Harriet Gibson, a farming family. From every account, James and Harriett Bourne were good parents, hardworking, and respectable. Frank was a bright young man, literate, and motivated to make something of himself. What he wanted from life was a challenge, and if he could also have an adventurous life, even better. Where did one go in the south of England to find an adventurous life? They went to the Army, of course.
Frank Bourne enlisted in the British Army in Brighton, East Sussex, in December 1872. Knowing his son was making a colossal mistake, James tried to change Frank’s mind, but the young man would not be detoured. Frank’s enlistment record reflects that he stood five and a half feet tall, was of slender build, and had brown hair, grey eyes, and a dark complexion.
A year later, having completed basic training, young Frank was posted to the Second Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot (also, 2nd Warwickshire). He was one of those young men to whom soldiering came naturally. In 1875, Frank was promoted to corporal and then, three years later, to Colour Sergeant — the senior noncommissioned officer in his rifle company (more or less equivalent to a company first sergeant in the U.S. military structure). Because of his youth and relative inexperience, the men of Company B referred to him as “The Kid.” Most of the privates in the company were in their thirties.
He may have taken a ribbing because of his relative youth, but the men highly respected Bourne. He was the only literate enlisted man in the company, which allowed him to help his men write letters home to their families. He was fair, even-handed, and very calm, and when he wanted the men to do something, they “snapped to.”
In 1879, Frank was 25 years old. This was the year his battalion commander posted Company B to the missionary outpost at a ford (drift) along the Buffalo River abutting Zululand in South Africa. The outpost was named Rorke’s Drift. Colour Sergeant Bourne’s company commander was Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead.
In the native language of the Zulu people, Rorke’s Drift was called Kwa Jimu (Jim’s land); the mission was one belonging to the Church of Sweden, formerly a trading post owned by merchant James Rorke. Under Lieutenant General Frederick Augustus Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford, Rorke’s Drift became a vital supply depot and field hospital under the overall command of Brevet Major Henry Spalding. Company B was detailed to provide security for the depot/hospital.
On 20 January, Chelmsford marched his 2,000-man army to Isandlwana, some 10 miles east of Rorke’s Drift. The next day, a small engineer detachment of No. 5 Field Company, Royal Engineers, under Lieutenant John Chard, arrived to repair the pontoons that bridged the Buffalo River. Chard, unsure of his orders, rode to Chelmsford’s position to receive clarification. He was ordered back to Rorke’s Drift with orders to construct defensive positions.
Spalding departed the station for Helpmekarr on 22nd January to ascertain the location of Captain Rainforth’s Company G, which was late in arriving. Spalding left Chard in temporary command. So informed, Lieutenant Chard went to the station to observe the work underway on the pontoons. A short time later, two survivors from Chelmsford’s army arrived and informed the men at Rorke’s Drift that the British army had been defeated (in fact, wiped out) — and that the Zulu Army was en route.
Lieutenant Chard called a meeting with Lieutenant Bromhead and Acting Assistant Commissary James Dalton (Commissary and Transportation Department) to decide whether they should defend Rorke’s Drift or withdraw to Helpmekarr. Dalton opined that the Zulu would quickly overtake a small party with wagons of sick and injured men. The consensus was that the soldiers should stay and defend. See also The Battle of Rorke’s Drift. It was the most incredible stand in British military history.
As senior NCO, Colour Sergeant Bourne was at the forefront of the company’s activities — from organizing and assigning the men to their defensive positions to providing them with an example of soldierly virtue and remaining conspicuously in the fight. In his statement to the BBC in 1936, Bourne said, “Now just one word for the men who fought that night. I was moving about amongst them at all times, and they did not flinch for one moment. Their courage and bravery cannot be expressed in words. For me, they were an example all my soldiering days.”
Frank Bourne was not one of the men to receive the Victoria Cross for the fight at Rorke’s Drift, but he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (the nation’s second-highest award). The medal carried with it an annuity of £10 monthly. For Bourne and the surviving men of Company B, the Zulu War was over. In 1880, 2nd Warwickshire departed South Africa for Gibraltar. The British Army offered Bourne an officer’s commission, but not being wealthy enough to sustain an officer’s position, he turned it down. He was instead promoted to Quarter Master Sergeant.
At Gibraltar, Frank Bourne married Eliza Mary Fincham and began to raise his family; they eventually had five children. His battalion eventually ended up in India and Burma but saw minimal action. In 1890, Bourne was advanced to Honorary Lieutenant and appointed to serve as Adjutant, School of Musketry in Hythe, Southampton. Bourne remained at this post for many years, eventually retiring as a Major in 1907.
In retirement, Major Frank Bourne DCM assisted Field Marshal Frederick Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts (a much beloved general officer known in the ranks as “Bobs”) with the administration of the National Service League and the National Smallbore Rifle Association.
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Major Bourne rejoined the army and was posted as Adjutant, School of Musketry, Dublin. By the end of the First World War, Bourne had been promoted to lieutenant colonel and awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
One hell of a soldier. Rest in peace, Colonel Bourne.
Find A Grave Memorials (online).
Imperial War Museum, United Kingdom (online).
 According to these records and photographic evidence, Frank Bourne looked nothing like the actor who played him in the film, Zulu — Nigel Green.
 Queen Victoria created the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) in 1854 in recognition of gallantry in the field by “other ranks” of the British Army. It is the oldest award for gallant conduct ranking only below the Victoria Cross (created in 1857). In 1993, the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross replaced the DCM, CGM, and DSO. The CGC is now the second-highest medal for gallantry in combat in the United Kingdom.
 During the Napoleonic War, the demand for experienced military officers prompted the British Army to offer battlefield commissions to enlisted men. However, the system of commissions in those days required officers to purchase their commissions, which to most low-to-middle-class Englishmen, was cost prohibitive.
 Technically, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry in recognition of public service outside civil service, established in 1917 by King George V.
The Gurkha (also Gorkhas) are soldiers native to the Indian sub-continent residing in Nepal and some areas of Northeast India. As a combatant, they are a tremendous force. They are small in stature, but the reader will not discover a body of men possessing more tenacity and esprit de corps or less regard for their safety. It is such that these small men appear as giants on the battlefield — or, if not that, their ferocity is enough to cause the blood of their enemies to run cold, drop their weapons, and run like hell. The Gurkha signal to attack has caused heart attacks in twenty-year-old men.
Most military historians rate Gurkhas among the finest combat soldiers in the world. They believe that the only way to defeat a Gurkha combat is by killing every man in his unit and then shooting them again just to make sure.
John Watts and George White were two very enterprising Englishmen who, sometime between 1598-1600, came up with the idea of forming a joint-stock company that would focus on trade with India. The company came into being on 31st December 1600 as the East India Company (EIC) — but over many years had several names. Eventually, people began calling it the John Company. In 1712, Dr. John Arbuthnot created a satirical character named John Bull, which became a national personification of the United Kingdom, generally, and England in particular.
But in 1600, no one imagined that EIC would acquire vast tracts of the Indian subcontinent. By 1740, the English competed with the French and Spanish for supremacy inside the Indian Ocean area. The competition was keen — there was no prize for second place. To gain (and retain) trade advantages, EIC relied heavily on the British Army to pacify the Indian population and the Royal Navy to protect trade routes and valuable cargoes.
Since it was economically impractical to permanently assign English regiments to India, EIC created its own army — one composed of native riflemen led by British officers and NCOs. EIC used this army to subdue uncooperative Indian states and principalities and to protect its economic interests. By 1800, the East India Company employed over 200,000 native soldiers, making it twice as large as the British Army.
In the early years, company management was both efficient and economical — but over time, incompetence, mismanagement, and other circumstances far beyond the company’s control (such as widespread famine in India) led the nearly bankrupt company to request financial aid from the British Parliament. After much debate, the government reasoned that such a commitment would benefit the nation’s long-term interests and approved EIC’s request — but not without having something to say about the company’s management. Parliamentary regulation and oversight of EIC began in 1773. In 1784, Parliament seized control of all Indian political policies through The India Act.
The John Company ceased to exist in 1858 when the Parliament forced it to cede all of its territories and holdings in India to the British Crown, which included massive parts of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and mid-Eastern Gulf colonies. Before incorporation, however, the EIC managed to recruit Nepalese to serve the company as part of its private army. They became known as Gurkhas. It was a relationship that began after the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816).
The Gurkha War
The Malla Dynasty was the ruling dynasty of the Kathmandu Valley (1201 – 1779) and one of the most sophisticated urban civilizations in the Himalayan foothills and a key destination in the India-Tibet trade route.
In 1766, when the Gurkha King invaded Kathmandu (which at the time belonged to the Malla Confederacy), the Malla appealed to the EIC for help and armaments. The company responded by sending an ill-equipped, poorly trained force of 2,500 men under a very young Captain, George Kinloch. By any measure, the expedition was an unmitigated disaster. Out of his depth as a military commander, Captain Kinloch had the additional misfortune of a malaria pandemic in the ranks. The Gurkhas quickly overpowered Kinloch’s demoralized troops, and since dead men did not need British-manufactured firearms, the Gurkhas collected the weapons and put them to good use against their other enemies.
Gurkha aggression toward Tibet over long-standing trade eventually involved Imperial Chinese troops between 1789-1792. It was then that the Gurkha (by then calling themselves Nepalese), in recognizing a common interest in territorial expansion, appealed to the British Governor-General for his assistance against the Chinese. Governor-General Lord Warren Hastings had no desire to engage Imperial China, but he was never averse to exploiting regional commercial opportunities. Moreover, the company was at the center of a cash-flow problem — an issue that Hastings could resolve by selling rare wools to English markets. Tibet was the only place on earth where Kashmir existed, and the only way to obtain it was through the mountain passes in Nepal — and this was only possible through the strategy of “political safety,” or territorial control and military pacification.
The Anglo-Gurkha War (1812-1816) involved two separate British military campaigns with seven major engagements and an extraordinary expenditure of money. Despite Nepal’s initial interest in involving the British in their dispute with China, which was not forthcoming, certain elements of the Gurkha hierarchy distrusted the British (with good reason), particularly after the British gained control of a neighboring principality. This event prompted the Nepalese to annex buffer territories of their own, which they were fully prepared to defend. In preparing for war with the British, the Nepalese suffered no illusions about the stakes of such a confrontation. One tribal chieftain advised his Nepalese lord, “They will not rest without establishing their own power and will unite with the hill rajas, whom we have dispossessed. We have hitherto hunted deer; if we engage in this war, we must prepare to fight tigers.”
The Anglo-Gurkha war ended with the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816. It required Nepal to relinquish all buffer territories west and east of its formal border and accept a permanent British representative in Kathmandu. Initially, the Nepalese objected to the treaty until General David Ochterlony offered the Nepalese a deal they could not refuse, which was that they could either agree to the treaty or Ochterlony would destroy them. It was thus that Nepal became a British-protected state.
Incorporating the Gurkhas
General Ochterlony and political agent William Fraser (1784-1835) were the first to recognize the potential of Gurkha soldiers in British service. During the war, Ochterlony employed Gurkha defectors as irregular forces. He and Fraser were impressed with these fighters and had no qualms about their devotion to the British cause. Fraser proposed that Ochterlony form the Gurkhas into a battalion under a British officer and key noncommissioned officers. This battalion later became the 1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles. About 5,000 Nepalese men entered British service after 1815, most of whom were Himalayans from three ethnic groups: Kumaonis, Garhwalis, and Gorkhalis — all of which quickly assimilated into a unique Gurkha identity.
Over time, the Gurkhas became the backbone of the British Army, forming ten regiments of two battalions each. The British called them the Brigade of Gurkhas or, more simply, The Gurkha Rifles. Between 1857-1918, the British employed Gurkha units to address conflicts in Burma, Afghanistan, the Indian frontiers, Malta, Cyprus, Malaya, China, and Tibet — with the Gurkhas serving with great distinction in each of them.
Eventually, the British raised twenty Gurkha battalions and formed them into ten regiments. During the First World War, the number of Gurkha battalions increased to 33, totaling approximately 100,000 men. Of these, 20,000 were either killed or wounded. More than 2,000 Gurkhas received combat decorations for their exceptional courage and gallantry. So steady were these men that they were among the first to arrive during the disastrous Gallipoli campaign — and they were the last to withdraw.
The Gurkha fought in the Third Afghan War (1919) and numerous campaigns in the Northwest regions, notably in Waziristan. At the end of the world war, the British returned its Gurkha regiments to India, keeping them away from the internal strife of urban areas and placing them instead on the Indian frontier, where fiercely independent tribesmen were a constant source of unrest. The mission of the Gurkha along the frontier was more on the order of a constabulary: keeping the peace by confronting lawlessness among the Pathan tribes.
In 1939, there were ten Gurkha regiments (twenty pre-war battalions). After the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, the Nepalese government offered to increase the number of Gurkha battalions to 35. Eventually, that number rose to 43 battalions, adding two battalions to each regiment and a fifth battalion to the 1st, 2nd, and 9th Gurkha Rifles (also, 1 GR, 2 GR, and 9 GR). To accomplish this expansion, Gurkha training battalions increased to five. The Nepalese raised two additional battalions for peace-keeping duty in India. In total, a quarter-million Nepalese men served in 40 Gurkha battalions, 8 Nepalese Army battalions, as well as in parachute, training, garrison, and logistical units against German/Italian forces in Syria, North Africa, Italy, and Greece, and Japanese forces in Burma, northeast India, and Singapore. Of all Imperial combat forces, Gurkhas earned 2,734 medals for bravery at the cost of 32,000 casualties in all theaters.
The pattern of Gurkha military ranks followed those of the Indian Army. Three levels included privates, noncommissioned officers, and commissioned officers. Commissioned officers within the Gurkha regiments held Viceroy’s commissions (while British officers held King’s or Queen’s commissions). Thus, any Gurkha holding a Viceroy’s commission (VCO) was subordinate to any British officer, regardless of rank. After Indian Independence in 1947, Gurkha officers reassigned to the British Army received King’s or Queen’s Gurkha Commissions (also known as KGO or QGO). The Crown abolished KGO/QGO in 2007. One notable difference between Gurkha officers and British officers is that no Gurkha can achieve a direct commission; Gurkha officers may only receive commissions through the enlisted ranks — they are all “mustangs.”
Today, Gurkhas serve in two separate armies: British and Indian. There is one Gurkha Regiment in the British Army and 12 battalions (6 regiments) in the Indian Army.
Ferocity in Combat
The Indian Rebellion of 1857
The problem of rebellion began as early as 1772 when Lord Hastings started to recruit for the British East India Company. Because many Bengalis opposed the BEIC in combat, Hastings avoided them during his recruitment efforts. He instead recruited higher castes, such as the Rajput and Bhumihar, from outlying regions. Ostensibly, the Madras and Bombay armies’ recruits were caste-neutral, but high-cast men were avoided below the surface. These caste-centered recruiting limitations continued through 1855.
The domination of higher castes in the Bengal army was one of the problems that led to the rebellion. For example, to avoid being polluted by the unclean lower caste, high-caste soldiers in the Bengal army dined separately — a situation that works against the concept of military teamwork. Hindu culture consumed the Bengal army, and higher-caste men were accorded privileges not extended to those of the lower-caste Bengali or the other company armies. For example, the company exempted Bengal soldiers from any service that took them beyond marching distance from their homes. The exemption excused Bengali soldiers from overseas service.
The final spark of discontent within the armies involved the ammunition used in the Enfield 1853 rifle/musket. The weapons fired mini-balls, and because the bore was smaller in diameter (tighter) than earlier muskets, pre-greased paper cartridges were needed to facilitate ramming the ball down the bore. In loading the weapon, sepoys (Indian soldiers serving in the British Army) had to bite the cartridge open to release the powder. Rumors began circulating that the grease on these cartridges came from beef. Biting into beef grease would be offensive to devout Hindus, and if the lubricant came from pork lard, another rumor, biting into the cartridge would offend Muslims. Added to these rumors was the claim that British/Company officers intended to convert Hindus and Muslims to Christianity. To quell the first rumor, Colonel Richard Birch ordered the manufacture of greaseless cartridges; the sepoys could grease the cartridges themselves using whatever substance they preferred. Colonel Birch’s common sense solution only caused many simple-minded soldiers to conclude that the rumors were true.
Unhappiness among civilians was more complicated. Three groups of rebels were feudal nobility, rural landlords, and peasants. The nobility was unhappy because they had lost titles and domains under company regulations that denied adopted children as legal heirs. Landlords had lost their lands to peasant farmers due to company land reforms. At the outset of the rebellion, landlords quickly re-occupied lost lands — without much complaint from the peasants, who oddly enough also joined the rebellion. There was also the issue of forced indebtedness. When peasant landowners could not pay their taxes, they borrowed money from loan sharks at high-interest rates. Peasants lost their land to these money lenders when they could not repay borrowed money.
In the spring and summer of 1857, Indian soldiers refused to obey the orders of company officers, and native officers declined to arrest or discipline them. Initially, it was more a matter of silent contempt than open mutiny. However, when all but five 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry soldiers refused to accept cartridges, their British commander, Lieutenant Colonel George Carmichael-Smyth, ordered courts-martial. Most of these men received sentences of ten years imprisonment with hard labor. Before marching the convicted men to jail, Smythe ordered them publicly stripped of their uniforms and shackled.
The opening of the rebellion occurred the next morning when rebels attacked and ransacked officers’ quarters. Several British officers were killed, along with four civilian men, eight women, and eight children. Crowds in the bazaar rebelled by attacking off-duty soldiers, beating to death fifty Indian civilians who served British officers, and attacked the post-jail, releasing the recently court-martialed soldiers. News of this uprising fostered other rebellions across India at Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, and Lucknow.
Not everyone opposed the British East India Company, and neither were the Gurkhas alone in suppressing the mutiny. Sikh princes supported the British, along with the princes of Hyderabad, Mysore, Travancore, Kashmir, and Rajputana. But the mutiny was unexpected and spread rapidly. When the British began to deploy Gurkha forces, rebels panicked — as well as they should have.
The Gurkhas could not understand such disloyalty, and it angered them. The last thing any reasonable person wants is an angry Gurkha standing before him. The Gurkhas were unrelentingly ruthless toward the rebellious. In one instance, a single Gurkha soldier chased down a dozen or more Wahhabi extremists; when the Gurkha was done with them, the Muslims lay dismantled in the gutter.
But the Gurkhas did not escape the 18-month-long insurrection unscathed. They suffered terrible casualties. The difference was, and what set them apart, is that no Gurkha, no matter how badly wounded, would leave his post. Not even when offered safe conduct for medical attention would they leave the side of their battling comrades. All other “loyal” units paled in comparison to the Gurkhas. No one had the “jolly recklessness” of the Gurkha private.
The rebels of Lucknow paled when they learned that the Gurkhas would oppose them. The fighting lasted for several months, but even from the first day, the rebels knew they were dead men walking. Again — as always — the Gurkha was both relentless and unmerciful.
The Malayan Emergency
Gurkha battalions operated continuously throughout the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960). During this time, the Gurkha soldier proved again, as he had done in Burma, that the Gurkhas are superb jungle fighters. The Gurkhas were among 40,000 regular British Commonwealth troops participating in the Malayan Emergency. 250,000 Malayan Home Guard troops augmented these men.
The Malayan Emergency was part of the post-World War II nationalist movements. These were conflicts initiated by communist insurgents against pre-war colonial powers. The initiating event in June 1948 was the murder of three Europeans during a communist assault on rubber plantations and the colonial government’s subsequent declaration of an emergency.
As in French Indochina, many of Malaya’s fighters were previously engaged as anti-Japanese nationalists, men trained and supplied by the British government during World War II. Most communist rebels were ethnic Malayan or Chinese poorly treated by British colonial administrators over several decades. The insurgents, when organized, began a series of assaults against British colonial police, military installations, tin mines, rubber plantations, and terrorist acts upon small, isolated villages. At such time as the British had had enough of the murder and mayhem created by communist rebels, they sent in commonwealth forces, including the Gurkhas, to end it.
Organized as the 48th Gurkha Brigade (later, the 17th Gurkha Division), the British sent fighters from all four (then) existing Gurkha regiments (2nd, 6th, 7th, and 10th) and expanded (modernized) Gurkha fighting units by creating such combat support forces as engineers, signals, and transportation regiments.
The Gurkha’s arrival in Malaya was a seminal event because it marked the beginning of the end of the communist insurgency there. Unlike the US military in their later engagement in Vietnam, Gurkhas did not waste valuable time or effort trying to win the hearts and minds of the Malayan people. They weren’t there for that … they were there to locate communists and kill them. It was a mission-centered enterprise. If there were going to be a contest for the hearts and minds of civilians, it would have to be won by the government’s civil administration. Throughout their involvement in Malaya, the Gurkhas had few interactions with the civilian population. At no time were Gurkhas deployed to protect villages. They were after the “killer gangs” who behaved less as nationalist patriots than the armed thugs of jungle warlords.
For the Gurkhas, jungle time was slow time. Long-range patrols typically lasted two or three weeks (a few exceeded 100 days). Soldiers carried a pack weighing around 90 pounds; it was all he needed for the duration of the patrol. The Gurkhas dumped these heavy packs in a cache, mounting patrols in light order to sneak and peek. The basic patrol unit often consisted of three men but sometimes involved as many as twelve. The largest reconnaissance in force involved company-sized teams.
There was never any micro-management from a higher authority. Unit commanders simply told their patrol leaders to “get on with it,” which gave these seasoned fighters maximum leeway in deciding how to proceed. One of the favored Gurkha tactics was the ambuscade; some of these lasted from ten days to two weeks. Such operations demand an unparalleled degree of self-discipline because an ambush is only successful when there are no unnecessary movements to reveal the ambusher’s position. In truth, most ambushes yielded nothing at all. Gurkhas killed most insurgents through chance encounters while patrolling.
Gurkhas relentlessly pursued their enemy for as long as it took until they rounded up or killed the communists. Psychologically, such tenacity and commitment destroyed the communist’s self-confidence. He could run, but he could not hide from the Gurkha combat patrol. This was part of the strategy adopted by the British forces … keep the communists on the run. Some of these forays lasted for twenty or more days, the limiting factor being the amount of ammunition carried by each soldier (sixty rounds).
What the Gurkhas accomplished in twelve years was extraordinary within the context of the overall strategy. There was only limited use of artillery, and although the British employed light observation aircraft to support ground movements, there were no overwhelming air bombardment campaigns. What fighting the Gurkha did, they did with their standard issue firearm, kukri knives, and their fighting spirit. At the end of the day, Gurkha units didn’t need B-52s, artillery, or tanks. They were in Malaya for one essential purpose: locate the enemy and kill him — and the way to do that most effectively was to terrorize the terrorists. This is how the Gurkha won the Malayan Emergency.
Presently, the Gurkha contingent of the British Army includes the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd battalions of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the King’s Gurkha Signals (five squadrons), King’s Gurkha Engineers (two squadrons), the 10th King’s Own Gurkha Logistics Regiment, the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas, the Gurkha Company, Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, a company at the Infantry Battle School, and one company at the Land Warfare Center.
In 1945, Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung was stationed in a trench with only two other men when over 200 Japanese soldiers opened fire. Gurung’s comrades were severely wounded in the opening fusillade. As hand grenades fell on the Gurkhas, Gurung tried to throw each one back one after another. He was successful with the first two, but the third exploded in his right hand. His fingers were blown off, and his face, body, and right arm and leg were severely wounded. As the Japanese stormed the trench, Gurung used his left hand to wield his rifle, defeating 31 enemies and preventing the Japanese from advancing. Gurung survived his wounds and was awarded the Victoria Cross.
In 1949, the British selected former Gurkha soldiers for service in the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force, which replaced the Sikh unit that existed before Japan’s occupation of Singapore. These police are well-trained and highly disciplined. They mainly perform as riot police and as an emergency reaction force. In Brunei, a Gurkha Reserve Unit serves as a special guard and elite shock force of around 500 men.
In 2008, Taliban insurgents ambushed a squad of Gurkhas, hitting Private Yubraj Rai. Captain Gajendera Angdembe and Riflemen Dhan Gurung and Manju Gurung carried Rai across 325 yards of open ground under heavy fire. The Gurkha leave no soldier behind – ever. In 2010, Acting Sergeant Dipprasad Pun single-handedly fought off thirty Taliban soldiers. It took him an hour, but all the enemy lay dead in the end. Pun received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.
The highest and most prestigious decoration in the British honors system is the Victoria Cross. The qualification for this decoration is exceptionally valorous conduct “in the presence of the enemy,” with posthumous awards authorized when appropriate. At one time, all member states of the British Empire participated in the British honors system, but since the beginning of the British Commonwealth of Nations, many such countries have devised their own honors system. The Australians, for example, created The Victoria Cross for Australia —which looks similar to the British Victoria Cross.
So far, British authorities have awarded 1,358 Victoria Crosses to 1,355 men. The greatest number of Victoria Crosses awarded for valorous conduct on a single day was 24 for individual actions on 16 November 1857 at Lucknow and Narnoul. The most medals awarded in a single conflict was 658 during World War I. There are five living holders of the VC: one RAF (World War II), three British Army (Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation, Iraq War, and Afghanistan War), and one Australian Army (Vietnam War). Of the total awarded, 26 went to men serving with Gurkha regiments, 13 of whom were native Nepalese enlisted men. Britain’s second highest award “for acts of the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger, not in the presence of the enemy” is the George Cross. Gurkha enlisted men have earned two such medals.
Barber, N. War of the Running Dogs. London: Collins Press, 1971.
Barthorp, M. Afghan Wars, and the North-West Frontier, 1839-1947. Cassell Publishing, 2002.
Chauhan, S. V. The Way of Sacrifice: The Rajput. University of Toronto, 1996.
Cross, J. P. and Buddhiman Gurung. Gurkhas at War: Eyewitness Accounts from World War II to Iraq. Greenhill Books, 2002.
Masters, J. Bugles and a Tiger: Autobiography of the life and times of a British officer serving with the Gurkha Regiment in India in the run-up to World War II. Handley, 1956.
Parker, J. The Gurkhas: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Feared Soldiers. Headline Books, 2005.
Thompson, R. Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam. London, Praeger Publishing, 1966.
 Warren Hastings (1732-1818) served as governor of Bengal, head of the Supreme Council of Bengal, and along with Robert Clive, was responsible for the foundation of the British Empire in India. Hastings achieved this by siding with one ethnic group against another and then conquering both — which eventually expanded British influence over the entire subcontinent.
 Major General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825) was a Massachusetts-born EIC officer who eventually served as Ambassador in Residence in Delhi, India.
 The number of combat decorations issued to Gurkhas is significant because traditionally, the British military is niggardly in awarding them.
 A VCO lieutenant colonel was subordinate to a KCO second lieutenant.
 The company recruited on behalf of three separate “presidential armies”: Bombay, Madras, and Bengal.
 A social stratification characterized by heredity, occupation, ritual status, and customary social interactions and exclusions based on such cultural notions as purity and pollution. Although not confined to India, most people think of India when they think of caste systems. Dating back 3,000 years, the caste system divides Hindus into four main categories, and this is determined by what they were in their past life. These beliefs persist to the present day because they are deeply rooted in the Hindu religion.
 More recently, it was claimed that American PsyOps programs floated rumors among Muslims that American soldiers dipped their small-arms ammunition in pork fat before loading their magazines — thus guaranteeing that the shot Muslim would go to hell.
 Sikhism is a hybrid between Hindu and Islamic belief systems.
 Malayan communists based their strategy on the fanciful assumption that communist victory in China would in some way presage Mao Zedong’s liberation of the much-maligned Chinese ethnics in Southeast Asia. When the communists understood that a communist China gobbling up huge chunks of Southeast Asia was little more than madcap fantasy, the morale of Malayan killer gangs and jungle fighters collapsed. This stands in stark contrast to the Vietnam War, where the communists were ethnic Vietnamese whose singular purpose was the reunification of the nation under a communist flag.
Archaeologists and historians will say that maritime history dates back “thousands” of years, citing evidence of sea trade between ancient civilizations and the discovery of pre-historic boats, such as dugout canoes developed somewhat independently by various stone age populations. Of course, fashioning out a handmade canoe and using it to cross a river may not exactly qualify as “maritime.” Nor should we conclude that Austronesian explorers qualified as a naval force, per se, but it was a start.
Egyptians had well-developed trade routes over the Red Sea to Arabia. Navigation was known to the Sumerians between 4,000-3,000 B.C., and it was the search for trade routes that led the world into the Age of Exploration and Discovery.
Minoan traders from Crete were active in the Mediterranean by 2,000 B.C., and the Phoenicians (ancient Lebanese) became a somewhat substantial maritime culture from around 2,500 to 64 B.C. What the ancient Syrians, Greeks, and Romans knew of sailing vessels, they learned from the Phoenicians. At least, that’s what we believe.
The Romans were an agricultural/land-based culture. There is evidence of a “warship” that carried a Roman ambassador to Delphi in 394 BC, but history’s first mention of a Roman navy didn’t occur until 311 B.C. In that year, citizens of Rome elected two men to serve as “naval officers,” charging them with creating and maintaining a fleet of ships. They were called Duumviri Navales (literally, “two men for dealing with naval matters). Each officer controlled twenty ships. There is some confusion, however, whether these officers exercised command over Roman ships or those of Roman allies. The ships were very likely triremes — a type of galley with three banks of oars (one man per oar).
Because Rome was a land-based culture, its primary defense and expansionist element was its land army. Maritime trade did become an important element of the Roman economy, but this trade involved privately owned ships who assumed the risk of losses at sea due to storms and pirates rather than “Roman flagged” vessels. When Rome did incorporate naval warships, they always served in a support role and as part of the Roman Army. Any career soldier today will tell you that’s the way it should be — but then this would be the same kind of soldier who thought it would be a good idea to use camels in the U.S. Cavalry.
Ships capable of survival at sea were always an expensive proposition, and comparatively speaking, there were never large numbers of people standing in line to go to sea. Men of the ancient world were always fearful of the sea (as they should be even now). To avoid the expense of building and maintaining ships, a Roman legate generally called upon Greeks to provide ships and crews whenever necessary to impose blockades.
It wasn’t until the Romans set their sights on Sicily in 265 BC that they realized that their land-based army needed the support of a fleet of ships to maintain a flow of supplies and communicate with the Roman Senate. This realization prompted the senate to approve the construction of 100 quinqueremes and 20 triremes in 261 B.C. Note also that quinqueremes were referred to as “the fives” because the rowers were arranged in groups of five. The Romans arranged their ships’ company as centuries (100 men per ship). Contrary to Hollywood films, Roman crews, particularly the rowers, were seldom slaves. Roman crewmen were free-born citizens or provincials who signed on as rowers, artisans, riggers, or Marinus (Marines).
To the Marines (naval infantry) fell the task of defending their ship or assaulting an enemy vessel. This was accomplished by archers, followed by boarders armed with the Roman gladii (short sword). Thus, the primary tactical objective at sea was to board and seize enemy ships. What a fantastic experience that must have been. Boarding activities remained prevalent long after the advent of sailing ships, gunpowder, and massive cannon.
Naval Forces in the Middle Ages
Beginning sometime after 1300 rowed A.D. galleys were replaced by sailing ships armed with broadside-mounted cannons. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of this innovation because combining the striking power of massed artillery with shipboard Marines firing from the topsail rigging was an enormous leap forward in naval warfare. Equally significant, naval power became the means by which Europeans created and maintained their overseas empires.
However, early in the Elizabethan era, ships were thought of as little more than transport vehicles for troops. The goal then was to corral an enemy ship, storm it, and capture it. There was no value to sinking an enemy ship. A sea captain could sell a captured ship, its cargo, and occasionally, he could ransom passengers and crew or sell them into slavery.
Beginning in medieval times, the design of ships emphasized resistance to boarders. A ship’s aft and forecastle, for example, closely resembled towering fortresses bristling with archery and gun slits. Necessity being the mother of invention, maritime tactics evolved further when it became apparent that defeating the enemy would require “other means.”
The Royal Navy’s Articles of War
What the United States Navy knew about operations at sea it learned from the British Royal Navy, and if we are to understand how the Royal Navy became the world’s most formidable sea power, then we must look to the British Navy’s Articles of War. The Articles of War governed how men in uniform conducted themselves under almost every set of circumstances, including during combat.
To begin with, a British navy commander’s defeat at sea was never acceptable to either the sovereign, the admiralty, or to the Parliament. The commanding officer of a British warship must engage the enemy and defeat him, or he must die in the attempt — even if the British ship was “outclassed.” The standard applied to naval warfare in the 1700s and 1800s was that a British naval commander entrusted with the control of a warship should defeat an enemy ship twice as large as his own. Fighting the vessel was the British commander’s first critical mission; winning the fight was the second.
Article XII, Articles of War, 1749:
“ Every person in the Fleet, who through cowardice, negligence, or disaffection, shall in time of action withdraw or keep, or not come into the fight or engagement, or shall not to do his utmost to take or destroy every ship which it shall be his duty to engage, and to assist and relieve all and every of His Majesty’s Ships, or those of his allies, which it shall be his duty to assist and relieve, every such person so offending, and being convicted thereof the sentence of a court-martial, shall suffer death.”
Before 1749, British naval officers had demonstrated a tendency to refuse to engage the enemy if there was any possibility that the British ship would be lost. This behavior was, perhaps, caused in part by common sense and the fact that naval courts refused to inflict severe punishments on such officers. The Articles of War of 1661 allowed that losses at sea could result from the ill fortunes of nature, but Article XII ruled out all such excuses.
Nor was there, after 1749, a great deal of “special trust and confidence” in the fidelity and ability of British naval commanders. We know this because it was the duty of the ship’s First Lieutenant to maintain a log of his captain’s actions — he was the ship’s watchdog. If the First Lieutenant had formed a too-personal relationship with his captain, other lieutenants were encouraged to watch and record the actions of the First Lieutenant. The ship’s master also maintained a journal. The Royal Navy’s intent was clear: there would be no lying or “fudging” journals in His or Her Majesty’s navy.
Nothing was more motivational, however than case law.
The island of Minorca had been a British possession since 1708, captured during the War of Spanish Succession. In 1748, government cost-cutting measures reduced the Royal Navy to three ships of the line in the Mediterranean Sea. As the British sought to expand their territory in North America in 1754, hostilities broke out between the British and French (and their Indian allies), quickly spreading to British and French allies in Europe.
In 1755, France began the process of constructing twelve new warships. British diplomats warned the Home Office that France would soon be in a position to attack Minorca. Lord High Admiral George Anson, out of his concern of a possible French invasion of England, recalled the Mediterranean squadron and assigned them to patrol duties along England’s long coastline. The Royal Navy could not afford to lose three ships of the line.
On 11 March 1756, the British Admiralty ordered Admiral John Byng to raise a fleet of ten ships, proceed to Toulon to protect the British garrison at Port Mahon. However, only six ships were present in Portsmouth, and all of them were in a state of disrepair (not ready for sea). Moreover, none of those ships were fully manned. Admiral Byng, realizing that there was no money to repair the vessels or construct four additional ships and because no one in England was willing to enlist in the Royal Navy, struggled to find a solution to the problem. There were no solutions. Admiral Byng promptly protested his orders. What the Admiralty demanded of him was impossible to achieve.
The Admiralty eventually provided funds for ship repairs and instructed Byng to carry out his orders. When shipwrights informed Byng that repairs would take longer than expected, the Admiralty ordered Byng to outfit channel ships and proceed to Port Mahon in advance of his somewhat diminished fleet.
On 6 April, still short of men, the British army loaned the navy Colonel Robert Bertie’s fusilier regiment, enabling Admiral Byng to set sail from Portsmouth. While Byng was en route to Toulon, a fleet of French naval vessels escorted 1,000 tartanes and other transports carrying 15,000 French troops to the far western side of Minorca.
Upon his arrival at Gibraltar, Admiral Byng reported to the senior officer, Lieutenant General Thomas Fowke. In their meeting, Byng presented Fowke with a letter from the British Home Office instructing him to provide Admiral Byng with such troops as he may require toward completing his mission.
When Byng realized that the French had landed a large force of soldiers at Minorca, he requested a regiment of Royal Marines to bolster his forces. General Fowke refused. His refusal may have had some justification if, for example, providing the Marines would have reduced Fowke’s ability to defend the British garrison as Gibraltar. In any case, Admiral Byng’s problem was further complicated because the ship repair facility at Gibraltar was inadequate to the task of repairing his ships. Frustrated, Byng dispatched a terse note to the Admiralty explaining his situation and then, despite his dire circumstances, sailed toward Minorca to assess the situation first hand.
The Battle of Minorca was fought on 20 May 1756. Byng had gained the weather gauge and ordered a lasking maneuver but his lead ship, HMS Defiance, rather than steering directly toward the enemy’s front, took a course parallel to that of the French fleet — with HMS Portland, Buckingham, and Lancaster, following in trace. The delay in getting his ships back into the proper formation allowed the French to make the rest of the battle a running fight.
After a battle of around four hours in duration, the French successfully withdrew from Minorca with 38 dead seamen and 168 wounded. Admiral Byng suffered extensive damage to one ship and the loss of 43 sailors killed and 173 wounded. Still, Byng took up station near Minorca for four days. After holding a council of war with his captains, Admiral Byng decided to return to Gibraltar for repairs, arriving on 19 June.
Before Byng could return to sea, a ship arrived from England with dispatches. The Admiralty relieved Byng of his command, the Home Office relieved General Fowke of his command, and both men were ordered back to England to face court-martial charges.
Upon arrival in England, authorities took Byng and Fowke into custody; both men received courts-martial. The Home Office charged General Fowke with disobeying an order to support Byng with troops. The Admiralty charged Byng with violating Article XII, failing to do his duty against the enemy.
Admiral Byng’s court-martial resulted in an acquittal on the charge of cowardice, but he was found guilty of failing to exercise command of his fleet and failing to engage the enemy. He was sentenced to death by firing squad.
Admiral of the Fleet John Forbes, Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty, was the officer who defeated the French at the Battle of Toulon in 1744. It fell upon Forbes to sign Byng’s death warrant. Forbes refused to sign the warrant because he believed Byng’s sentence was excessive and illegal. King George II refused to grant clemency to Byng and further declined to approve Prime Minister William Pitt’s recommendation for commutation. Thus, on 14 March 1757, Admiral Byng was escorted to the quarterdeck of HMS Monarch and shot dead by a squad of Royal Marines.
Article XII established the standard for command responsibility, but Byng’s court-martial set the legal precedent: a commanding officer is responsible for the actions of his subordinates. If a junior officer runs the ship aground, the captain is responsible. If a ship’s commander fails to maneuver his vessel properly, his senior officer is responsible. If a captain fails to fight his ship, his admiral is responsible.
The American Navy
The power of Congress to regulate the Army and Navy was first established during the Second Continental Congress, which on 30 June 1775, legislated 69 Articles of War to govern the conduct of the Continental Army (which, at the time, also included the Navy). The Articles of War, 1775, were not identical to the Articles of War promulgated by Great Britain but quite similar. Congress retained this power in the U.S. Constitution, promulgated within Article I, section 8, stating, “It shall be the power of the Congress to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.”
On 10 April 1806, Congress enacted 101 Articles of War. These were not significantly revised until 1912 and remained in effect until 31 May 1951, when Congress developed and implemented the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Notably, Article 52 of the Articles of War (1806) stated:
“Any officer or soldier, who shall misbehave himself before the enemy, run away, or shamefully abandon any fort, post, or guard, which he or they may be commanded to defend, or speak words inducing others to do the like, or shall cast away his arms and ammunition, or who shall quit his post or colours [sic] to plunder and pillage, every such offender, being duly convicted thereof, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as shall be ordered by the sentence of a general court-martial.”
About navy fighting formations
There were only a few fighting formations of a naval fleet under sail. Responsibility for selecting which formation (or variation) employed during a sea battle fell to the fleet admiral (or commodore): line ahead, line abreast, and line of bearing. The admiral also determined sailing order — first ship in line, second, and so forth. In establishing his combat formation, the fleet admiral would attempt to gain the weather gauge and signal his intent to subordinate commanders through signal flags.
The line ahead formation did not allow for concentration of fire because, for naval guns to be effective on a rolling platform, combatants had to close to 300 — 500 yards of the enemy. The most devastating assault came from raking fire, initiated either from the bow or stern where cannon shot would do the most damage by traveling the length of the enemy ship.
Admiral Horatio Nelson was the first British officer to break the line in 1797 and again in 1805. His instruction to his captains was, “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of his enemy.” Breaking the enemy’s line disrupted the enemy’s cohesion and made it possible to overwhelm individual ships and seize them. Again, the primary aim of the battle formation was to board and capture the enemy’s ships.
Boarding Operations may be the world’s oldest example of naval warfare. The boarding of an enemy vessel, or a friendly one to capture it from pirates and other low vermin, is an example of up close and personal extremism — which more or less defines all close combat. To achieve cross-ship boarding, the offending vessel needed to sail alongside the enemy vessel and direct an assault onto the enemy vessel. The individuals performing this operation were sailors and Marines who were (and are) trained for such missions. In the days of sail, sailors performed the task when the attacking ship was too small for a detachment of Marines.
Armed with swords, cutlasses, pistols, muskets, boarding axes, pikes, and grenades, the boarding party attacked the enemy crew, beginning with the helmsman and officer of the watch, or the ship’s captain if present on the bridge, all gun crews, and any other crewman left alive. Again, the purpose of boarding operations was to seize the ship, which was always the intent of privateers and pirates — even today.
Captain John Paul Jones conducted a classic example of boarding operations during the American Revolution. Jones’ Marines assaulted HMS Serapis from the sinking USS Bonhomme Richard in 1779. Captain Jones’s boarding operation is exemplary because it was the only known fight during the Age of Sail when a ship’s captain captured an enemy ship while losing his own. In 1813, the British returned the compliment by boarding and seizing USS Chesapeake from HMS Shannon.
Boarding enemy ships was also the purpose of the “cutting out” operations during the Age of Sail. To “cut out” is to seize and carry off an enemy vessel while at anchor in a harbor or at sea. The operation would typically target a small warship (a brig, sloop, or a two-masted ship of fewer than 20 guns). Cutting out operations avoided larger ships because of the crew size (300 or so men).
A cutting-out party would generally include sailors and Marines who began the assault in the dark of night. For an example of a cutting-out operation, see also At the Heart of the Corpsand the capture of the Sandwich during the Quasi-War with France.
Boarding operations are rare in modern times. U. S. Marines conducted their last boarding operation during the Mayaguez Incident in 1975, which involved a vertical assault from helicopters. Current operations may also involve small submarines and inflatable boats. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely incorporates boarding operations as part of its maritime drug interdiction operations.
A Final Note
While the Uniform Code of Military Justice is a massive improvement over the articles of war, severe penalties are still prescribed for certain crimes. The Manual for Courts-martial, Article 99 (Misbehavior Before the Enemy) includes, as offenses: (a) running away from a fight, (b) shamefully abandoning, surrendering, or delivering up any command, unit, place, or military property, which it is a duty to defend, (c) through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct, endanger the safety of any command, unit, place, or military property, (d) casting away arms (weapons) or ammunition, (e) displaying cowardly conduct, (f) quitting one’s place of duty to plunder or pillage, (g) causing false alarms, (h) willfully failing to do one’s utmost to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy enemy troops, combatants, vessels, aircraft, or any other thing, which it is a serviceman’s duty to do, and/or (i) failing to afford all practicable relief and assistance to troops, combatants, vessels, or aircraft of the armed forces of the United States or their allies when engaged in battle. Any person found guilty of these offenses shall face a maximum punishment of death.
Abbot, W. J. The Naval History of the United States. Collier Press, 1896.
Bradford, J. C. Quarterdeck and Bridge: Two centuries of American Naval Leaders. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1955.
McKee, C. A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U. S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991
Rak, M. J., Captain, USN. The Quasi-War and the Origins of the Modern Navy and Marine Corps. Newport: U.S. Naval War College, 2020
The Library of Congress, Military Legal Resources, online.
Warming, R. An Introduction to Hand-to-Hand Combat at Sea: General Characteristics and Shipborne Tactics from 1210 BCE to 1600 CE. Academia College, 2019.
Winthorpe, W. Military Law and Precedents. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1920.
United States Constitution, Article I, section 8.
 The quinquereme was the more common Hellenistic-era warship, and the heaviest at that particular time. The Romans seized a Carthaginian ship, took it back to Rome, reverse-engineered it, and used it as a blueprint for Roman-made ships. The quinquereme had three to five banks of oars. The trireme had only three banks of oars but was much lighter and faster.
 Roman commanders of these ships were “Magistrates,” who knew nothing of sailing ships, but they were supported by lower-ranking officers who were seasoned sailors (most likely Greek seamen).
 Sinking ships as a naval strategy didn’t evolve until the mid-1800s when nations began building ironclad ships.
 In time, a ship’s captain would share the prize money with his crew as a reward for their victory at sea.
 The term “ship’s captain” is the traditional title of the person who serves in overall command of a ship. The naval rank of that person could be Lieutenant, Commander, or Captain — but no matter what his rank, he is called “Captain.” A ship’s master is the person who runs the ship (rather than commanding it). He is the most experienced seaman, and what he doesn’t know about running a ship isn’t worth knowing.
 One could understand this mindset in the British Army, where aristocrats bought and sold commissions. Under those conditions, there was never a guarantee that a colonel knew what the hell he was doing. The Royal Navy never sold commissions. All navy officers were promoted on merit.
 Channel ships (or Packet Ships) were medium-sized vessels designed to carry mail, passengers, and cargo. They were not suitable for sea battles with regular ships of the line.
 A fusil is a flintlock musket; a fusilier is someone who shoots a fusil. Also, musketeer or in modern parlance, a rifleman.
 A tartane was a small coastal trader/fishing vessel.
 A maneuver in which all ships turn into the enemy at once.
 King George II dismissed Fowke from the Army. King George III later reinstated him.
 Line-ahead battle formation (also, Ship of the line warfare) was a columnar formation developed in the mid-17th Century whereby each ship followed in the wake of the ship ahead at regular intervals. This formation maximized the firing power of the broadside and allowed for rapid “melee formation” or, if necessary, disengagement. Note that a ship of the line was of the largest (most formidable) fighting ship used in the line of battle (formation).
Edward Despard (1751-1803) was an Anglo-Irish British officer — the brother of General John Despard. He was an “acquired” gentleman and soldier through his service as a squire in the household of Lord Hertford. Edward entered the British Army as an Ensign with subsequent service with the 50th Regiment of Foot in Jamaica. He initially served as an engineer; his construction duties required that he supervise the so-called motley crews, including free blacks and mixed-race “Miskitos.” He employed these people and worked them hard, but he also sympathized with them.
Despard served with distinction in operations against Spanish Guatemala during the American Revolution. He fought under Admiral Horatio Nelson during the San Juan expedition (1780), and in 1782, while serving as a captain, Despard commanded the British force at the Battle of Black River. In recognition of Despard’s courage in the heat of battle, the Army promoted him to Colonel. He continued to lead reconnaissance missions, relying on people of color to help him defeat his Spanish foe; it was through this experience that he developed an affinity for those whom, he felt, lived together in “perfect equality.”
After the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Colonel Despard supervised the British logwood concession in the Bay of Honduras, then known as British Honduras (now as Belize). Working under the British Foreign Ministry, Colonel Despard sought to accommodate displaced British subjects along the Miskito Coast. Despard’s problem was that in attempting to distribute land equally without regard for color, he ran afoul of British slave traders and landowners. His lottery system afforded people of color equal opportunity for land acquisition, which placed them in competition with white landowners seeking to make their fortune in the harvesting of mahogany timber.
Unfortunately, the British Home Secretary found agreement with white landowners that it was impolitic to afford people of color an equal footing with wealthy businessmen, who also happened to be white. Colonel Despard replied to Lord Sydney that the laws of England made no such distinction. In 1790, Lord Grenville, who replaced Thomas Townshend, recalled Despard to London to answer questions relative to certain “irregularities” in his governorship.
When Colonel Despard arrived in London, he traveled with his wife Catherine and son James. Catherine, a black woman, was the daughter of a protestant minister. Since mixed marriages were almost unheard of in England, the union created a stir, but mainstream society never challenged it.
After Colonel Despard’s arrest, Catherine worked to bring attention to the unfair (malicious) manner of the government’s accusations of alleged irregularities. Seeking to discredit her, the British government referred to her efforts as the “fair sex” intercession, with no mention of her race. In the minds of Despard’s enemies, it was enough to suggest that this weak-minded woman was being used to further the goals of political subversives. As it happened, Despard’s descendants later repudiated Edward and Catherine’s marriage by referring to Catherine as Edward’s black housekeeper and “the poor woman who called herself his wife.” Despard’s son James was described as the offspring of a previous lover, and both Catherine and James were quietly removed from the family tree.
While the government investigated Colonel Despard’s irregularities, he was confined in debtor’s prison for two years on trumped-up charges. While confined to his dank cell, Despard read Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. Paine’s argument vindicated Despard’s view of universal equality, which is how he conducted himself as governor of British Honduras. At the time the British released Despard from prison in 1794, Thomas Paine was living in France and Paine’s writings were popular among people who shared Despard’s view, particularly the Irish.
Between 1792 and 1797, the United Kingdom was a member of a loosely constructed European coalition against the French First Republic — known as the Wars of the First Coalition. In 1791, European monarchies viewed developments in the French Revolution with considerable concern for the welfare of Louis XVI and his family and other matters. Although the coalition was uncoordinated, the first act of violence occurred when France declared war on Austria in April 1792, Prussia declared war on France in June 1792, and both Austria and Prussia invaded France in September 1792. It did not help matters when the French executed Louis XVI on 21 January 1793. The British kept their distance from the mainland battles but did manage to irritate the French by supporting French loyalists against the Republic.
At the time of its war with France, high-ranking members of Parliament made a connection between Thomas Paine, Edward Despard, other Irish malcontents, and certain seditious efforts to undermine the authority of King George III. Indeed, some among these men were voicing suggestions of armed rebellion. Unrelated to this movement, one fellow attempted to assassinate King George. He was acquitted based on insanity but institutionalized, nevertheless. Earlier, in 1793, authorities arrested three prominent citizens, members of “corresponding” societies, charged them with sedition and sentenced them to fourteen years of penal transportation.
In the summer of 1795, crowds shouting “No War, No Pitt, Cheap Bread” attacked the residence of British Prime Minister William Pitt (The Younger) and consequently surrounded King George III in procession to Parliament. There was also a riot at Charing Cross, at which location authorities detained Edward Despard and questioned him about his involvement in those riots if any. A magistrate later suggested to Despard that he may have brought the matter upon himself by his flippant answers to initial questions. In October 1795, Parliament passed the Seditious Meetings Act, which made it a crime to attend meetings that were even remotely suggestive of treasonous activity.
Notwithstanding the Gag Act, Colonel Despard joined the London Corresponding Society and was quickly elevated to its central committee. When the Irish movement turned toward the prospect of a French-assisted insurrection, Despard took the “United Irish” pledge to obtain complete and adequate representation for all the people of Ireland. In the summer of 1797, a Catholic priest named James Coigly traveled to Manchester where he demanded Englishmen to join Ireland in removing the king, to “…exalt him that is low and abuse him that is high.” In furtherance of this goal, Coigly met in London with groups calling themselves United Bretons, and with Irish leaders of the London Corresponding Society, which in addition to Alexander Galloway, included Despard, and Benjamin and John Binns, members who “committed themselves” to overthrowing the present government and joining the French as soon as they made a landing in Ireland. Only poor weather prevented a French landing from taking place.
Historians believe Despard held a liaison position between British republicans and the French Republic at this junction. In June 1797, a government informer reported that a United Irish delegation intending to travel to France via London applied to the British government for their departure clearance. In March 1798, while attempting to cross the English Channel to France, British agents arrested Coigly and Arthur O’Connor. O’Connor, highly placed and vouched for, was acquitted of the charge of sedition. Coigly, on the other hand, with French documents in his possession, was charged and convicted of treason and then hanged. There may not have been a mass movement to overthrow King George III, but there was undoubtedly an attempt to invite and encourage a French invasion of Ireland.
Soon after, British authorities arrested Despard and thirty others and confined them to the Clerkenwell prison. Despard was retained for three years while British agents infiltrated committees of correspondence and began a system of suppression of those and workman’s unions, which the government outlawed.
Although retained for three years behind bars, government prosecutors never charged Despard with an offense. Despard was set free in 1802, and he returned to Ireland, where he rejoined the anti-British movement in his home county. Whether Despard realized it or not, British informers riddled the county. Meanwhile, in England, a large influx of unhappy Irish refugees restarted a republican movement.
On 16 November 1802, British agents arrested Colonel Despard for attending and meeting with forty or so workers. The next day, the Privy Council officially charged him with High Treason. Admiral Lord Nelson appeared as a defense witness, but the fact that Nelson had not seen Despard for twenty years diminished his glowing report. In the end, Despard was found guilty of only one overt act — his oath to Ireland republicanism. Nevertheless, Colonel Despard, Private John Wood, Private John Francis, carpenter Thomas Boughton, shoemaker James Wratten, slater Arthur Graham, and laborer John McNamara were all sentenced to hang and be drawn and quartered.
British executioners carried out Colonel Despard’s sentence on 21 February 1803. It is entirely possible that Colonel Despard, having great sympathy for the Miskito people and the common man, may have become a useful idiot to Irish and British republicans. Nevertheless, 20,000 British citizens attended his final farewell, the largest ever gathering in London until the death of Lord Nelson.
Catherine and James Despard vanished into history. Three months later, the United Kingdom went to war with France, remembered in history as the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815).
Carroll, D. The Usual Suspects: Twelve Radical Clergy. Columbia Press, 1998.
Conner, Clifford D. Colonel Despard: The Life and Times of an Anglo-Irish Rebel. Combined Publishing, 2000.
Madden, R. R. The United Irishmen: Their lives and times. Madden & Company Press, 1846.
 Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney served in British politics from 1754-1783 and as Home Secretary from 1783-1789. He was a cousin of Charles Townshend, the man responsible for the Townshend Acts, which were one cause of the American War of Independence.
 William Grenville later served as British Prime Minister (1806-1807).
 The forced relocation of persons convicted of crimes, or judged undesirable, to distant places (penal colonies). Most of such persons did not have the money to return to their homes once released from confinement.
 Pitt The Younger was the son of William Pitt, 1st Earl Chatham, who also served as Prime Minister (1766-1768). Fort Pitt was named in honor of William the Elder, present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
 In the United Kingdom, high treason equates to disloyalty to the Crown, which includes plotting the murder of the sovereign, or sexual dalliances with members of the royal family, levying war against the sovereign, consorting with the sovereign’s enemies, giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and attempting to undermine lawful authority.