An Age of Patriotism

Burrows WW 001
William Ward Burrows I

William Ward Burrows (16 Jan 1758 – 6 March 1805) was born in Charleston, South Carolina.  He served with distinction in the Revolutionary War with the South Carolina state militia.  After the war, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to practice law.  On the day following an act of Congress to establish a permanent United States Marine Corps (11 July 1798), President John Adams appointed Burrows Major Commandant.  During his tenure as Commandant, the manpower strength of the Marine Corps never exceeded 881 officers, noncommissioned officers, privates, and musicians.  Note that by tradition, Samuel Nicholas was the first officer to serve as Commandant of Continental Marines, but Burrows was the first appointed Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps.  In history, Burrows is regarded as the Second Commandant of the Marine Corps.

After the United States won its independence from Great Britain, America no longer benefitted from the protection of the British Navy.  America was suddenly facing the arduous and expensive task of protecting its own seacoast and merchant fleet.  Few American ships were available to take on this task, and few were even capable of such a mission.  The Kingdom of France was a crucial ally of the United States during the Revolutionary War, had loaned the Continental Congress large sums of money, and in 1778, signed an agreement with the United States for an alliance against Great Britain.  In 1792, Louis XVI was overthrown during the French Revolution and the French monarchy was abolished.

In 1794, the United States forged an agreement with Great Britain in the Jay Treaty, which was ratified in the following year.  The Jay Treaty resolved several issues between the US and Great Britain that had lingered since the end of the revolution.  The Jay Treaty encouraged bilateral trade and expanded trade between the two nations, the effects of which stimulated America’s fledgling economy.  Between 1794 and 1801, the value of American exports tripled.  Not every American supported the Jay Treaty, however. Jeffersonian Democrat-Republicans were pro-French and fought an alliance with Great Britain at every turn.

France and Great Britain were at war, but the United States declared neutrality.  As US legislation was being formulated for a trade deal with the British, Congress refused to continue making payments on the debt owed to France from the Revolutionary War.  The United States argued that their obligation was to the King of France.  Since there was no longer a king in France, the United States no longer had an obligation to pay this debt.

France was not pleased. Initially, the French government authorized privateers to seize American ships trading with Great Britain, taking the ships to France as prizes of war, and sold for compensation.  Next, the French refused to receive the United States Ambassador to France, Charles C. Pinckney.  The effect of this was the complete severance of diplomatic relations between the United States and France.  President John Adams delivered his annual message to Congress, reporting to them that France refused to negotiate a settlement.  Adams warned Congress: the time had come “to place our country in a suitable posture of defense.”  The so-called XYZ Affair (French agents demanding bribes before engaging in substantive negotiations with US diplomats) incensed members of Congress and the general population.

It was in this setting that the Navy and Marine Corps had their humble beginnings.  The Navy had few ships, and the Marines had few troops.  Still, six or so months in advance of hostilities with France, the War Department began recruiting and enlisting able seamen to serve as Marines aboard frigates that had been authorized by Congress to meet the French threat.  These initial units were small detachments assigned to ships of the U. S. Navy; ships that were still under construction.

During Major Burrows first several months, his principal concern was supplying men to serve with sea-going Marine Detachments.  At this time, Headquarters Marine Corps was situated at a camp near Philadelphia until the national capital in Washington was ready to receive the government in 1800.  Burrows sent a Marine guard detail to the Washington Navy Yard in March to protect government property.  Burrows and his staff relocated to Washington in late July, settling into what today is called the Marine Barracks, 8th& I Streets.

Burrows was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 1 May 1800.  The Quasi-War with France continued until September when the two countries finally settled their differences —and once these matters were resolved, Congress had no further interest in maintaining a naval establishment. Congressional attitudes embarrassed Burrows because he was trying to establish a war-ready Marine Corps on a peace time budget.  The Barbary Wars broke out soon after the end of the Quasi-War.  Adams lost the Presidency in 1801, and Thomas Jefferson, who was no friend of the Navy or Marine Corps, was inaugurated as President.  In spite of Jefferson’s lack of interest, Burrows continued his struggle to man the much needed ship’s detachments gearing up for duty in the Mediterranean.

Lieutenant Colonel Burrows’ stewardship is credited with beginning many of the Marine Corps’ institutions, most notably the U. S. Marine Corps Band (now called the “President’s Own”). To create the band, Burrows relied heavily on personal contributions from his officers.  Burrows was also a disciplinarian, demanding high standards of professional conduct from his officers.  Due to ill health, which may be related to his relocation to Washington City, then an insect infested swamp, Burrows resigned his office on 6 March 1804.  He died a year later while still residing in Washington.  He was initially buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Georgetown, but on 12 May 1892, his remains were re-interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Part of Colonel Burrows’ legacy is his son, William Ward Burrows II (1795 – 1813), who served in the United States Navy from 1799 to his death in 1813.  Lieutenant Burrows distinguished himself at Tripoli while serving aboard the USS Constitution.  He died from wounds received during an engagement with HMS Boxer, while in command of the brig [1] USS Enterprise during the War of 1812 (derisively known at the time as Mr. Madison’s War).  Burrows was buried at Eastern Cemetery in Portland, Maine, next to the slain commander of HMS Boxer, Samuel Blyth.

In recognition of his courage under fire, Lieutenant Burrows was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal [2]:

Congressional Gold Medal
Congressional Gold Medal; See endnotes for attribution.

That the President of the United States be requested to present to the nearest male relative of lieutenant William Burrows, and to lieutenant Edward R. McCall of the brig Enterprise, a gold medal with suitable emblems and devices; and a silver medal with like emblems and devices to each of the commissioned officers of the aforesaid vessel, in testimony of the high sense entertained in the conflict with the British sloop Boxer, on the fourth of September, in the year one thousand eight hundred and thirteen. And the President is also requested to communicate to the nearest male relative of lieutenant Burrows the deep regret which Congress feel for the loss of that valuable officer, who died in the arms of victory, nobly contending for his country’s rights and fame.

Endnotes:

[1] A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts.  They were fast and maneuverable and used as both warships and cargo vessels.  Brigs were among the first casualties of the age of steam because they required relatively large crews for their small size, and they were difficult to sail into the wind.  A war brig was outfitted with between ten and eighteen guns.

[2] Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Shown above is the gold medal issued to John Paul Jones, the only Continental Navy Officer to receive this award. I could not find a likeness of the medal issued to Lieutenant Burrows.  Credit for the image of the gold medal belongs to Jules Jaquemart, Loubat, J. F.  Medallic History of the United States of America, New Milford (1878).

Happy New Year, Marines

Here for New Year is a Scots-language poem penned by Robert Burns in 1788, well-known in the English-speaking countries.  Burns is not the author of the first verse, as he admitted to having written it down as it was told to him by an elderly man.  Experts say that Burns most certainly wrote the rest of the poem, however. I reprint it here as I recall my Marine Corps friends and acquaintances, many of whom are still with us, some who are not.

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.

CHORUS

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.

CHORUS

As a post-script, James Watson printed a similar verse in 1711:

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:

Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.

In any case, Happy New Year everyone.  May God bless you mightily with good health and happiness in the year ahead.

Semper Fidelis,

 

A Great Naval Officer

I feel privileged to have been part of our country’s naval establishment.  In my years as a Marine, I have known and worked with superb Navy officers.  So, I enjoy relating stories about the best of the lot, as opposed to officers (of any service) who allowed politics to interfere with their obligations as officers: we have had too many instances of this in our history going all the way back to the Revolutionary War—some of these more recent.

In my opinion, one of the great Naval officers in our history was Bowman Hendry McCalla (1844-1910), a man who was not only proficient in the application of naval power, but also one who demonstrated personal courage in the face of the enemy, and an officer who knew how to best utilize his Marines.  He wasn’t a perfect man; he made mistakes, as we all have from time to time, but he was a good man who did his best to serve the United States of America.

McCalla was appointed to the United States Naval Academy in November 1861.  At that time, the USNA was temporarily located at Newport, Rhode Island (note 1).  In November 1864, young McCalla graduated fourth in his class.  After graduation, he was assigned to the South Atlantic Blocking Squadron.

Following the Civil War, McCalla served successively with the South Pacific Squadron, the Home Squadron, and the European Squadron through 1874.  Within this ten year period, McCalla was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.  Upon completion of his tour with the European Squadron, he was assigned to serve as an instructor at the US Naval Academy.  He afterward served as the Executive Officer (second in command) of the steamer USS Powhatan, and from 1881 to 1887, as assistant bureau chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation.  He first came to public notice in April 1885 when he led an expeditionary force of Marines and Sailors in Panama to protect American interests during an uprising against Colombian control.  

From 1888 to 1890, then Commander McCalla served as Commanding Officer, USS Enterprise, which was then part of the European Squadron.  Known as a strict disciplinarian, McCalla crossed the line in his dealings with subordinates and, as a result, faced a highly publicized court-martial upon his return to the United States.  Among other charges, he was accused of striking an enlisted man.  Convicted of all charges, McCalla was suspended from duty for three years, which caused him to lose several numbers on the navy’s seniority (lineal precedence) list.  He was restored to duty in 1893 and served three years as the equipment officer at the Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco, California —it was not a great assignment, but McCalla had to demonstrate that he had learned his lesson.

In 1897, Commander McCalla assumed command of the Montgomery-class cruiser USS Marblehead (note 2).  With the beginning of the Spanish American War, McCalla was placed in command of Navy Forces blockading Havana and Cienfuegos, Cuba.  He shelled the port city of Cienfuegos on 29 April 1898.  Then, on 11 May, members of the ship’s crew, along with sailors from the USS Nashville, cut two of the three telegraph cables located at Cienfuegos.  McCalla later made arrangements with local Cuban insurgents regarding ship-to-shore communications, but he erred in failing to so inform his superiors.  This oversight caused a significant delay in Commodore Winfield Scott Schley’s ability to blockade the enemy’s naval forces, then under the command of Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete at Santiago de Cuba.

USS Marblehead participated in the blockade before being detached to reconnoiter and seize Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba.  McCalla bombarded Spanish positions there on 7 June, capturing the outer harbor for use as a supply base for the American blockading squadron.  He then provided material support to the amphibious assault by the 1st Marine Battalion on 10 June.  With the Marblehead, McCalla remained on station while the Marines solidified their positions, and, having done so, taking an instrumental part in the effective bombardment of a Spanish fort at Cayo del Toro in Guantanamo Bay.  In appreciation of his actions, the Marines honored the commander by naming their encampment after him —Camp McCalla.

Owing to his courage in the face of the enemy, McCalla was advanced six numbers in grade, restoring him to the seniority he had held before his court-martial.  

McCalla was promoted to Captain in 1899 and ordered to assume temporary command of the Norfolk Navy Yard; he assumed command of the USS Newark in September for service on the Asiatic Station.  Arriving on station, McCalla participated in the naval campaign against Filipino insurgents during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).  It was during this time that Newark was directed to provide reinforcements and needed supplies to the American Legation in Peking. 

Captain McCalla afterward led 112-sailors and Marines, reinforcing the Seymour Expedition; as senior US Naval officer, Vice Admiral Seymour appointed McCalla to serve his deputy commander.  Confronted by overwhelming Chinese forces, the Seymour Expedition was unsuccessful in reaching Peking, but during a series of engagements, Captain McCalla was cited for displaying calm and steady courage under fire despite being wounded.  Captain McCalla was later commended for bravery by the Congress of the United States, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and King Edward VII of Great Britain.

McCalla completed his sea service as Commanding Officer of the battleship USS Kearsarge and, as an additional duty, serving as Chief of Staff to the Commander, North Atlantic Squadron.  He was then assigned to command the Mare Island Navy Yard.  Promoted to Rear Admiral on 11 October 1903, McCalla oversaw the Navy’s immediate response to the San Francisco earthquake in April 1906 —which involved ordering ships, sailors, and Marines to aid the stricken city.  

Rear Admiral McCalla retired from active naval service in June 1906.  He remained in the San Francisco area after retirement; in 1908, he helped welcome the ships of the Great White Fleet to San Francisco Harbor.  

Admiral McCalla passed away in Santa Barbara, California on 6 May 1910.

Sources:

  1. Blow, Michael. A Ship to Remember: The Maine and the Spanish-American War, Morrow, 1992
  2. Coletta, Paolo. Bowman Hendry McCalla: A Fighting Sailor, University Press of America, 1979
  3. Feuer, A.B. The Spanish American War at Sea: Naval Action in the Atlantic, Praeger, 1995
  4. Marine Corps Museum, Manuscript Register Series No.1, Register of the Henry Clay Cochrane Papers (1809-1957) 
  5. Trask, David F.  The War with Spain in 1898, University of Nebraska Press, 1996.
  6. Tucker, Spencer C., Ed. Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars, ABC-CLIO LLC 2009

Notes:

1Following the Baltimore Riot on April 19, 1861, pro-Confederate Marylanders took action to stop the movement of Union volunteers through the city on their way to Washington.  Telegraph wires were cut, and railroad bridges were destroyed.  USNA Superintendent George S. Blake, who was concerned about the possibility of a Confederate attempt to occupy the Naval Academy, decided to relocate the school to Newport, Rhode Island on 25 April 1861.

2 USS Marblehead was an unprotected cruiser commissioned on 2 April 1894.  She was decommissioned on 21 August 1919.  An unprotected cruiser was in common use during the late Victorian period; she was little different from a large gunboat.

Send in the Marines!

Chinese Imperial Colors

The United States’ first interest in China was demonstrated in 1784 when an American flagged merchant ship departed from New York bound for Canton, China. Denied access to British markets, which, given the number of ports then controlled by Great Britain, had a stifling effect on an emerging American economy.  Americans went to China looking for new markets to buy goods.  They were well received by the Chinese, and in fact some historians have suggested that the Chinese preferred dealing with Americans who wanted to purchase Chinese made goods, while the European nations were only interested in selling to the Chinese.

By the mid-1800s, Sino-American relationships had grown.  The interest in markets continued, but so too did an interest in converting millions of Chinese to the Christian faith.  Christian missionaries were among the first Americans to study Chinese language, culture, and history—and it was these missionaries that helped to shape America’s overall perceptions of Imperial China.

As for the Chinese, America was seen as a land of opportunity.  Thousands of Chinese migrated to the United States during the California gold rush, and labor was in high demand to help build transcontinental railway systems.  Some Chinese leaders were so inspired by the American political system that they sought to model a new China on the American Republic.

Thus, for much of America’s history, relationships between the United States and China were positive. In the late Nineteenth Century, however, European powers and Imperial Japan were expanding their colonial interests. Some of these wanted to break China up into colonies, each of these controlled by one European power or another.

The Chinese “Boxer”

Discontent with foreigners had been on the rise in China since 1898, when the “I Ho Ch’uan Society” (Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists) began gaining popularity in northwest China. This group, commonly referred to as Boxers, opposed foreign influence and developed strong opposition to Christian missionaries.  As the Boxers became better known, their ranks swelled with farmers and laborers who were adversely affected by droughts that had come on the heels of devastating floods.  The Boxers believed that these misfortunes were the result of foreigners and Christian missionaries.

Over time, Boxer activity spread to additional provinces; provincial leaders, as well as the Imperial Court were inconsistent in their stand relative to the issues.  On some occasions, Chinese authorities sought to protect foreigners and Christians.  At other times, these same officials stood by and watched the resentment escalate.  Tzu Hsi, the empress dowager of the Manchu Dynasty, was publicly anti-Boxer, but privately she encouraged the Boxers.

Turn of the Century cartoon depicting Uncle Sam dictating the Open Door Policy to European and other interests.

In the fall of 1899, the United States was a late arrival in China.  Nevertheless, the US wanted to maintain what Secretary of State John Hay called an “open door” policy in China.  That is to say, a proposal that China keep its door open to foreign trade, but at the same time barring any foreign nation from controlling the internal affairs of China.  If the Boxers succeeded in pushing the United States and other foreign countries out of China, this newly opened door could soon be shut.  Secretary Hay maintained that it was in America’s best interests to maintain an independent China.  Nevertheless, maintaining an open door in China was a challenge, since nations seeking to colonize and control China pursued their own interests irrespective of what the United States thought.

In the next year, a crisis erupted in China as Boxers increased their resistance to foreign influence and presence.  This increased violence served as an impetus to the alliance of eight nations: Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, Japan, and the United States.  Each of these nations maintained legations in Peking.  As the Boxers became progressively violent, hundreds of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians began flocking into that city asking for the protection of the foreign legations.

On 28 – 29 May 1900, Boxers burned several strategically placed railroad stations.  Receiving word of this, the foreign legations wisely suspected that they were being systematically isolated, and it wasn’t long before they telegraphed for help.  The 8-nation alliance responded immediately.

LtCol John Twiggs Myers

On 31 May, Captain John Twiggs Myers, USMC [1] arrived in Peking in overall command of two ship’s detachments of American Marines.  This newly formed Legation Guard consisted of Myers’ twenty-five Marines from the USS Oregon along with Captain Newt Hall, USMC and twenty-three marines, five sailors, and an assistant surgeon from the USS Newark.  Also arriving in Peking were 350 sailors and naval infantry from other foreign nations.

A second multi-national force was organized on 10 June under the command of British Vice Admiral Sir Edward Seymour —the largest contingent of which were British, with but 112 American sailors and Marines.  US Navy Captain Bowman McCalla [2] was detailed to serve as Admiral Seymour’s second in command.  The Seymour Expedition traveled north, rebuilding the railroad line as they went—and did so with the Chinese government’s authorization.  The Chinese government knew that the railway lines between Tianjin and Peking had been severed —in fact, had ordered it done. It was a set up.

In Peking, the first Boxer was seen in the Legation Quarter on 11 June 1900.  The German Minister, Clemens von Ketteler, ordered his soldiers to capture the Boxer, who was but a young lad.  Inexplicably, Ketteler ordered the boy’s execution.  The boy’s death served as the catalyst of a massive attack by thousands of Boxers into the walled city, who commenced a systematic campaign of pillaging and burning Christian churches and cathedrals.  Captured Christians (foreign or Chinese) were burned alive.  American and British missionaries took refuge inside the Methodist Mission and an attack there was repulsed by US Marines.

The blood-letting continued as soldiers at the British and German Legations shot and killed several Boxers, further alienating the Chinese population, and the effect of which nudged the Qing government toward supporting the Boxers.  Vengeance-seeking Moslems soon joined the Boxers in attacking and killing Chinese Christians.

Vice Admiral Edward Seymour, Royal Navy

Seymour received news about the Chinese attacks on foreign legations on 18 June; he decided to continue his advance.  The expedition had come within 25-miles of Peking when it was set upon by overwhelming Chinese forces.  By the next day, Chinese resistance was so severe that Seymour was forced to withdraw. Two-hundred of his men had been either killed or wounded.  The expedition was low on food, ammunition, and medical supplies.  It was at this point that the expedition discovered a cache of munitions at an arsenal.  Seymour captured the arsenal, occupied it, and decided to wait for reinforcements.

Also on 18 June, the Chinese government informed the foreign ministers that a state of war would soon be in effect, unless the legations withdraw from China within the next 24-hours. As a plum, the Chinese government promised safe passage as far south as Tientsin.  On the following day, the foreign ministers announced that they had no intention of leaving China.  Thus, on 20 June 1900, as promised, the empress dowager issued her declaration of war that included praise for the Boxer insurrectionists.  A siege of the city began on that very day.

U. S. Marine Corps field uniform, c. 1900.

Chinese artillery and small arms fire became a constant form of harassment, although initially, there were no organized attacks against the foreign legations, but each agreed to form pro-active, mutually supporting military defense.  On 25 June, Marines placed themselves at a critical position on the Tartar Wall—otherwise, the entire legation would have been subjected to devastating fires from the Chinese rebels.

The Boxers constructed barricades some distance from the front of the Marine position.  During the night of 28 June, Private Richard Quinn reconnoitered one of these barricades by crawling on his hands and knees to the Chinese position, and in so doing, gathered vital intelligence about Boxer activities.  Each day, the Chinese moved their barriers closer to the Marine position on the Tartar Wall and by 2 July, these barricades had become unacceptably close to the Marine position.

Captain Myers responded by attacking the Chinese barricade.  At a time when the Chinese least expected it, Myers led an attack against the barricades on the Tartar Wall.  The Chinese fell back to another barricade hundreds of yards further on.  During the engagement, two Marines were killed, and Myers received a serious wound to his leg from a Chinese lance.  With Myers seriously wounded, Captain Hall assumed command of the Guard.  An informal truce was made on 16 July, although Chinese harassment continued until the foreign legations were relieved on 14 August 1900.

American Marines participated in several actions after Myers’s force reached Peking.  After the failure of the Seymour Expedition, the United States quickly scrambled additional troops to help end the siege of Peking. Two separate detachments of Marines left Cavite in the Philippine Islands and joined up near Taku, China. The first detachment consisted of 107 Marines from the 1stMarines, who left Cavite on USS Solace.  A second detachment of thirty-two marines sailed from Cavite aboard USS Nashville.  These two detachments were combined to form a battalion under the command of Maj. Littleton W. T. Waller.  On 20 June, the Marine battalion, augmented by approximately four hundred Russian soldiers engaged the Chinese near Tientsin.

Although the marines served as the spearhead of the American-Russian attack, they had scant success against the greater Chinese force.  Following an overwhelming counterattack, Waller decided to withdraw. The Marines formed the rear guard of the retreat, in which they were pursued for four hours, ending up where they started, suffering three killed and seven wounded.

Two days later, Waller’s battalion and the Russian force were strengthened to two thousand men with the arrival of British, Russian, German, Italian, and Japanese troops.  This enlarged force went on the offensive the next day and took all but the inner walled city of Tientsin.  On 28 June, the international force relieved Seymour’s expedition, which had been held up for a month at the Hsi-Ku Arsenal north of Tientsin.

The 9thUS Infantry arrived on 6 July, joining the allied force near Tientsin.  The number of Marines serving in China increased when 318 men under the command of Colonel Robert L. Meade arrived on 10 July from the Philippines.  Meade’s Marines moved from the coast to Tientsin, where it joined Waller’s battalion with Colonel Meade assuming command of the all Marine forces.

The next day, the allied force launched an attack against Tientsin to rid the walled inner city of any remaining Boxer forces.  The attacking force, commanded by a British general officer, included American Marines, the 9th US Infantry, British, French, German, Japanese, and Russian infantry.  Fighting took place most of the day, but there was little to show for it.  Of the 451 Marines engaged in this action, seventeen enlisted men and four officers became casualties.  A Japanese night attack finally broke through the Chinese defenses, which allowed the international force to enter the walled city of Tientsin.

General Chaffee, U. S. Army

On July 30, US Army General Adna R. Chaffee [3] arrived in Tientsin and assumed command of all US forces in China.  Arriving with Chaffee was another battalion of Marines under the command of Major William P. Biddle [4], two battalions of the 14thUS Infantry, the 6thUS Cavalry, and one battery from the 5thUS Artillery.

The mission of the China Relief Expedition was to relieve the legations in Peking and protect American interests in China.  On 4 August 1900, the international force of approximately 18,000 combat troops left Tientsin for Peking.  Chaffee’s force of 2,500 Americans included 482 Marines.

On 5 August, Japanese infantry engaged and defeated a Chinese force at Pei-tsang.  The next day, Marines fought successfully at Yang-stun. The international force reached Peking and relieved the foreign legation on 14 August but experienced several casualties from heat exhaustion during the 85-mile march to Peking.

Upon reaching Peking, Marines aggressed the north gate to destroy Chinese snipers and set up an observation post.  Two enlisted men, along with First Lieutenant Smedley D. Butler, were wounded in the assault. By the time the siege was lifted, the Legation Guard suffered eighteen casualties: 7 were killed, 11 wounded, which included Captain Myers and the assistant surgeon.

Marines advanced to the Imperial City on the next day, but light resistance to the presence of foreign military forces continued throughout China for several months.  A Boxer Protocol was finally signed in September 1901. Afterwards, US Marines returned to their former assignments and locations.

Of those who served during the Boxer Rebellion, 33 enlisted men were awarded the Medal of Honor, including the first posthumous award of the Medal of Honor: Private Harry Fisher was killed on 16 July while engaged in combat on the Tartar Wall.  Private Dan Daly received his first Medal of Honor for heroic action on the night of 15 July.

Brevet Medal

At this time, military officers were not eligible for the award of the Medal of Honor; instead, those noted for courage under fire were distinguished by advancement of numbers in grade, or on occasion, they were awarded brevet rank [5].  Captain John T. Myers was brevetted Major; First Lieutenant Butler was advanced to brevet captain, and First Lieutenant Henry Leonard was advanced two numbers in grade.  Three officers who served during the Boxer Rebellion would become commandants of the United States Marine Corps.

In its aftermath, there was an unfortunate downside to the Boxer Rebellion.  A few civilians and members of the news media [6] first claimed and then reported that Captain Newt Hall was “over cautious” in the defense of the legation by abandoning the barricades —the suggestion being that in doing so, he jeopardized the safety of members of the legation [7].  The fact was that Captain Hall was a somewhat taciturn individual who was not especially liked by members of the legation, whereas Captain Myers was both personable and popular.  With his name sullied and given the competitive nature of service in the Marine Corps, Captain Hall demanded a court of inquiry.

RAdm Bowman H. McCalla, USN

Captain Bowman McCalla, USN, who, according to Marine Corps historian Colonel Robert Debs Heinl, Jr., was “neither fool nor faint of heart,” unreservedly recommended Hall for a brevet promotion for his conduct under fire in Peking [8].

Captain Hall’s court of inquiry convened on 1 March 1901 in Cavite, Philippine Islands.  It cleared Captain Hall of any malfeasance, but the wording of the court noted that he was not charged “for the reasons that he has already suffered enough for the worldwide publication and criticism for his conduct in Peking.” This was clearly a case of damnation by faint praise.

The Secretary of the Navy further confounded the issue when he approved brevet promotions for Myers and Hall but, in advancing Captain Myers four numbers in grade for eminent and conspicuous conduct, failed to give a similar compliment to Hall.

Nevertheless, Captain Hall served a full and distinguished career in the United States Marine Corps, retiring in grade of Colonel in 1929.

Notes:

[1] The story of Handsome Jack of the Marines is told here.

[2] McCalla, later to serve as a Rear Admiral, was cited for conspicuous gallantry during this expedition.

[3] Adna Romanza Chaffee (April 14, 1842 – November 1, 1914) played a key role in the US Civil War, the Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, and the Boxer Rebellion.  He rose to the rank of lieutenant general, United States Army and served as Chief of Staff from 1904 to 1906.

[4] William P. Biddle served as a United States Marine from 1875 to 1919.  He participated in the Spanish-American War, Battle of Manila Bay, Boxer Rebellion, China Relief Expedition, Philippine-American War, and World War I.  He was the 11th Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps from 1910 to 1914.

[5] A warrant that gave commissioned officers a higher title in rank in recognition for gallantry or meritorious conduct in battle without conferring authority, precedence, or pay of actual rank/promotion.  An officer so promoted was referred to as Brevet Major or other ranks.  An officer so promoted would be noted as Bvt. Major Harold Jones.

[6] G. E. Morrison, The London Times, as one of the complainants.

[7] The late Marine historian, retired Colonel Robert Debs Heinl Jr., in Soldiers of the Sea, wrote, “Other charges circulated that Hall had hesitated to lead his men forward over the barricade on the final day when relief was in sight.  Ugly talk it was,” noted Heinl. The talk came to the attention of U.S. Army Major General Adna R. Chaffee, who commanded all U.S. forces in China.  He detailed Captain William Crozier, who had distinguished himself in the relief column, to look into it. Crozier found that virtually all the complaints were from civilians (who would not know courage if it bit them on the leg) and recommended no further action.

[8] It was at about this same time that Century Magazine published a slanderous, attack on Hall by a civilian named W. N. Pethick, who had been at Peking during the siege.

 

U. S. Marine Corps Brevet Medal

The Marine Corps Brevet Medal, also known as the Brevet Medal, was a military decoration of the US Marine Corps, created in 1921.  Its purpose was to to recognize living Marine Corps officers who had received a brevet rank during their term of active duty service.  It’s significance in history is that it was only issued/presented to twenty-three officers from its date of issuance to the date it ceased to exist as a recognition of intrepidity in combat.

The Articles of War adopted in 1776 (revised, 1806) created the use of brevet rank as a reward for especially meritorious service or conduct in time of war.  A brevet promotion entitled an officer to be recognized at the higher grade, but with limited effect.  The promoted officer was not entitled to higher pay, nor did it allow him to be considered for a higher command unless the promotion was ordered by the President of the United States, did not affect the officer’s overall seniority in the service or his permanent rank.  In 1818, brevet commissions also required senate confirmation in the same manner as regular officer promotions.

Brevet promotions were first used by the US Army during the Revolutionary War.  The justification for such promotions was that the Continental Congress could not find suitable positions for foreign officers seeking commissions.  Most of these at the time were from France.  In the 19thCentury, brevet promotions were common in the US Army because of the increasing numbers of frontier forts and the demand for higher ranking officers to command these establishments.  Because each service had an assigned ceiling on the number of officer’s commissions by rank, brevet promotions were always intended as temporary advancements—lasting until either an authorized position became available, or the officer was reassigned from a position that required a higher rank.

During the Civil War, almost all senior Army officers received brevet promotions.  In most cases, the brevet came in recognition for gallantry or meritorious service.  In 1863, Congress authorized brevet promotions to officers of the United States Volunteers [1], which resulted in more frequent use of brevet ranks throughout the US Army.  The Confederate States Army, while providing for the use of brevet ranks did not actually use them at all during the war between the states.  The U. S. Marine Corps also used brevet promotions during the Civil War; it’s Brevet Medal was issued to living officers who had received brevet promotions between 1861 and 1915.

In 1921, then Commandant of the Marine Corps Major General John A. Lejeune requested that a Marine Corps Brevet Medal be authorized; after it was approved and created, the decoration was given to the last 20 living Marine Corps officers who received brevet promotions.  Three officers who were designated to receive this medal passed away before they could be presented.

The Marine Corps Brevet Medal was considered to be more or less equivalent to the Navy Cross medal, which today is the second highest recognition for bravery in combat for members of the US Navy and Marine Corps. The medal was designed by Sergeant Joseph A. Burnett, USMC.

Why was the Brevet Medal phased out?  There were two reasons.  First, in 1870 Congress passed a law stating that no officer could wear, nor be addressed by their brevet rank.  Thus, brevet promotions became an honorary designation only.  Because of this new law, the last nine brevet promotions awarded by the Marine Corps occurred during the Boxer Rebellion.  On 7 June 1921, Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby approved the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ request for a medal denoting the holder of a brevet promotion to be issued.  Accordingly, Marine Corps Order #26 was issued on 27 June 1921, authorizing the medal to be ordered and by November 10, 1921 the medals had been created.  This decoration was justified on the grounds that, until 1915, Marine Corps officers were not eligible to receive the Medal of Honor.  Second, Congress changed the rules for awarding the Medal of Honor, allowing both officers and enlisted men to receive it.

In 1940 the Marine Corps declared the Brevet Medal obsolete and the medal was never again issued. The concept of brevet commissions was phased out of the US Armed Forces and was replaced by temporary and field promotions, which were actually awarded more frequently than brevet ranks.

Of the twenty-three officers designated to receive the Brevet Medal, several of these are already known to my regular readers.  A few are not well known, so let me briefly tell you about them.

Colonel Philip Michael Bannon, from Jessup, Maryland, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1895.  He accepted a Marine Corps commission to Second Lieutenant on 1 July 1897.  During the Battle of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bannon distinguished himself in combat, receiving brevet promotion to First Lieutenant on 13 June 1898.  This promotion qualified him for the award of the Brevet Medal.  Later participating in the Boxer Rebellion, then Captain Bannon led a company of Marines that marched to Tientsin to join the International Relief Force.  During this engagement, Bannon was cited for gallantry, meritorious, and courageous conduct on 13 July 1900.  He retired from the U. S. Marine Corps in 1928 and passed away on 25 June 1940.

Colonel Carl Gamborg-Andresen was Norwegian-born, immigrating to the United States, and, gaining a commission in the U. S. Marine Corps, participated in the Boxer Rebellion.  Cited for distinguished conduct and public service in the presence of the enemy during the Boxer Rebellion, he was brevetted to Captain on 13 July 1900.

Colonel Allan Cunningham Kelton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 24 June 1846.  He was cited for distinguished conduct and public service in the presence of the enemy at Guantanamo, Cuba and brevetted to Major on 11 June 1898. Kelton retired from the U. S. Marine Corps in 1909 and passed away on 22 November 1928.

Two Marine Corps officers selected to receive the Brevet Medal were subsequently appointed to serve as Commandants of the Marine Corps: William Phillips Biddle, and Wendell Cushing Neville.

Notes:

[1] United States Volunteers were separate from the regular Army; such designation was the federal government’s primary means of raising large forces of citizen-soldiers that were needed in time of war to augment a small regular army.  It was the forerunner of the National Army during World War I and the Army of the United States in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam conflicts.

The Samoan Crisis of 1899

Samoa consists of two main islands and four smaller islands.  Human beings have inhabited these islands for around 3,500 years. The Samoan people have their own unique language and their own cultural identity.  Owing to the seafaring skills of the Samoan people, early European explorers began to refer to these islands as the “Navigator Islands.”

Contact with Europeans began in the early 18thCentury.  Dutch captain Jacob Roggeveen first sighted the islands in 1722.  He was followed by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville in 1768.  European contact was limited before 1830, but in that year British missionaries and traders began to arrive, led by John Williams (London Missionary Society) who traveled there from the Cook Islands.  Robert Louis Stevenson lived in Samoa from 1889 to 1894.

Of all the European explorers, Germany alone demonstrated a keen interest in the commercial development of the Samoan Islands, particularly in the processing of copra and cocoa beans on the island of Upolu.  The United States also had an interest in Samoa, particularly in the establishment of a coaling station at Pago Pago Bay.  To this end, the Americans forced alliances on the islands of Tutuila and Manu’a, which later became American Samoa.  Not to be undone, the British sent troops to protect their business interests, harbor rights, and consulate offices.  During an eight-year civil war, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States provided arms, training, and in some instances, combat troops to the warring Samoan natives.  The Samoan Crisis came to a head in 1889 when all three colonial competitors sent warships into Apia harbor; a larger war seemed imminent until a massive typhoon destroyed the warships in the harbor.

A second civil war came in March 1898 when Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States were locked in dispute over which of these should control the Samoan Islands.  The first battle involved British and American forces seeking to prevent a rebel takeover of the city of Apia.  When rebel forces (urged-on by the Germans) launched their attack, Anglo-American forces responded by directing naval gunfire against rebel positions surrounding Apia, which ultimately forced the rebels to retreat to the stronghold of the Vailele plantation.

American and British naval forces included cruisers USS Philadelphia, HMS Tauranga, HMS Porpoise and the corvette HMS Royalist.  On 1 April, Philadelphia, Tauranga, Porpoise and Royalist landed an expedition totaling 26 Royal and American Marines, 88 Royal and US sailors, and 136 Samoans for an attack on the landward side of Vailele.  Royalist was sent ahead to bombard the two fortifications guarding the Vailele plantation.  As the landing force moved inland, it no longer enjoyed the protection of naval gunfire. Upon their approach to Vailele, British and American troops were overwhelmed by rebel forces.  It was a defeat for the British and Americans, but three of America’s combatants are of particular interest.

Monaghan J 001U. S. Navy Ensign John R. Monaghan was born in Chewelah, Washington on 26 March 1873.  He was in the first graduating class of Gonzaga University and later graduated from the United States Naval Academy in June 1895. After graduation, he served as a midshipman aboard USS Olympia (flagship of the US Asiatic Station) where he was commissioned an ensign in 1897.  Monaghan was later transferred for duty aboard the monitor Monadnock and the gunboat USS Alert.  During the Spanish-American War, Ensign Monaghan was transferred to USS Philadelphia, flagship of the Pacific Station [1].

Lansdale PVH 001Lieutenant Philip Van Horne Lansdale was born in Washington, D. C., on 15 February 1858. He was commissioned an ensign on 1 June 1881 and subsequently served on Asiatic, North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific Stations.  Promoted to lieutenant in 1893, he became the executive officer (second in command) of Philadelphia on 9 July 1898.  After participating in the ceremonies which transferred sovereignty of the Hawaiian Islands to the United States, Philadelphia was dispatched to Samoa, arriving off Apia on 6 March 1899.  Lansdale was the officer commanding the landing force on 1 April 1899.

Hulbert JL 001Private Henry Lewis Hulbert was born in Kingston Upon Hull, East Yorkshire, England on 12 January 1867.  He was raised in a cultured home environment, he was well-educated, and he was adventurous. He entered the British Colonial Civil Service and was posted to Malaya.  While there, he married Anne Rose Hewitt, but it was a nasty marriage and one that ended in a publicly visible, very embarrassing scandal.  Hulbert left Malaya and traveled directly to the United States.  At the age of 31-years, Hulbert joined the U. S. Marine Corps on 28 March 1898.  After completing his initial training at Mare Island, California, he was assigned to the Marine contingent aboard Philadelphia.  Private Hulbert was one of the 200-man landing force on 1 April 1899.

Philadelphia arrived at Apia, which was the main port on the island of Upolu (largest of a group of six islands) on 8 March 1899, and the center of the Samoan disturbance.  A conference was held at once between British and American naval commanders, their respective consuls, and local government officials.  They were looking for ways to preserve the peace.  German interests were not represented at this meeting owing to the fact that the Germans were behind the rebellion.  On 11 March, Rear Admiral Kautz, having assumed responsibility for joint operations, issued a proclamation addressed to the Samoan high chiefs and residents of the island, both native and foreign.  In general, he called for all concerned to return to their homes and obey the laws of Samoa.  Every effort was made to influential citizens to prevail upon warring factions to obey the proclamation and to recognize the authority of the Chief Justice of Samoa.

It was on 13 March 1899 at about ten o’clock p.m. that the rebel leader answered the proclamation by attacking Apia and concentrating their fire upon British and American consulates and at Mulinu’u Point, where women and children had taken refuge.  Within moments, US Marines and blue jackets went over the side and headed for Mulinu’u Point to protect the defenseless women. A series of well-aimed volleys dispersed the rebels at that location, but the Americans received sniper fire throughout the night.

Over the next several days, US and British forces constructed trenches and breastworks extending along the outskirts of Apia; nights were occupied fighting off rebel forays attempting to discover weak areas along the defensive perimeter.

On 31 March, Lieutenant C. M. Perkins, Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment, USS Philadelphia, led a reconnaissance force consisting of sixteen riflemen and a machinegun crew into the jungle outside Apia.  Perkins encountered a vastly superior force of rebels, forcing him to withdraw back to the edge of town, to the American Consulate.

Rear Admiral Kautz ordered that a larger landing force be organized for the next day.  Commanding the landing force was Lieutenant Freeman, Royal Navy. The Americans would serve under Lieutenant Philip Lansdale, who was assisted by Lieutenant C. M. Perkins and Ensign John Monaghan.  Accompanying the combined force were an additional 136 natives, indifferently armed, poorly disciplined, with some of these men suspected rebel sympathizers.  British and American forces did not trust them and established a “color line” across which no Samoan could be allowed to cross.

On 1 April, the expedition had only just crossed the point at which the previous day’s battle had taken place when they were engaged by an estimated 1,200 rebels who had concealed themselves in the thick forest.  Lieutenant Freeman was almost immediately killed; shortly afterwards, Lieutenant Lansdale was shot in the leg, rendering him unable to walk.  In spite of his painful wound, Lansdale continued to fire at the rebels who were rapidly approaching him with rifles and beheading knives.

Realizing Lansdale’s dangerous predicament, Ensign Monaghan organized a number of blue jackets to form a defensive perimeter around their fallen leader.  Monaghan struggled to remove his superior from the battle area; the sailors fought off the savages for as long as they could, but they were being overwhelmed. Finally realizing the hopelessness of his situation, Lansdale ordered a general retreat.

As the force began its extraction, Private Hulbert stepped up calmly delivering deadly fire upon the approaching Samoan forces.  The Lansdale party slowly worked their way to the rear in withdrawal, but Lieutenant Lansdale received a gunshot wound to the chest.  It was a mortal wound from which would not recover.  Seaman N. E. Edsall joined Hulbert in laying down accurate fire as Monaghan continued in his attempt to remove Lieutenant Lansdale’s body from the field. Moments later, both Monaghan and Edsall were killed.  Private Hulbert executed a fighting withdrawal.

Private Hulbert survived the battle and received a commendation from the Secretary of the Navy on 22 May 1899, which stated in part, “The gallantry of Private Henry L. Hulbert, who remained behind at the fence till the last and who was with Lansdale and Monaghan when they were killed, I desire especially to mention.”

Private Hulbert was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor for this engagement; he was later killed at the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge in France on 4 October 1918.  He was, at the time of his death, a 51-year old First Lieutenant, already slated for promotion to Captain.  His personal decorations include the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, and French Croix de Guerre.

Notes:

[1] Rear Admiral Albert Kautz, U. S. Navy, Commander, Pacific Station.

Evaluating the Apple

A good friend recently sent me a book review by Mark Bowden, which I can only assume appeared in The Atlantic.  Bowden is best known for writing Black Hawk Down: A story of Modern War.  The subject of Bowden’s review is a book titled Eat the Apple: A memoir, by Matt Young.

Bowden begins,

“The trouble with writing the unvarnished truth in a memoir is that it requires you to be hard not only on others, but also on yourself.  Matt Young’s inventive, unsparing, irreverent and consistently entertaining [book] is that, but it is also a useful corrective to the current idealization of the American soldier —or in this case a Marine.  Patriotism and respect for the military is so high in this country that we have lately held a national debate over whether professional athletes should be required to stand for the national anthem.  Men and women in uniform are given preference in boarding airplanes and are so routinely thanked for their service that the expression has become rote.  Each new season brings a crop of movies and glossy TV serials dramatizing the heroics of our Special Operations.”

“[Matt] Young see’s hollowness and potential harm in this.”

“Enforcing the idea that every service member is a hero is dangerous; like creating of generation of veterans who believe everything they did was good,” wrote Young.

Bowden tells us that Matt Young wants to warn us of the dangers in creating an army of fanatics.  “[Military] service deserves respect, of course, but it does not in itself guarantee stirring and selfless acts of bravery.”

24th Marine Expeditionary Unit table 3 rifle range shootI’m quite sure that I won’t read Matt Young’s book.  I already know about military service and I might even suggest that I completed my career long before Mr. Young enlisted.  Still, some things go without saying.  Given the nature of our Armed Forces, and the fact that the military services host hundreds of occupational specialties —all of which support the efforts of front-line forces— only about one-third of our 1.4 million military service members serve in the combat arms … which is the place where we’ll find most heroes if we happened to be looking for them.  Nevertheless, courageous acts aside, very few of these selfless individuals are without sin.  A split second of bravery doesn’t make a soldier a good husband, a good father, or even a trustworthy friend.

Now about those fanatics Mr. Young is worried about.  I am unable to speak about the other services, but I can say that it is the purpose of Marine Corps training to turn every Marine into a lethal killing machine.  This is how battles are won.  If it is fanaticism, it is necessary to the success of combat units (and their combat/service support attachments).  If at some future time, as a matter of national policy, we intend to arm milquetoast youngsters with weapons and send them into harm’s way, then our nation will no longer deserve an elite combat force.

Nevertheless, the Marine Corps isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Roughly 40% of Marines reenlist after their first enlistment, which means that around 60% of everyone who joins the Marine Corps end up leaving at the end of their term of service.  Of those who end up getting out of the Corps, probably less than 20% later whine about their service as American Marines.  Once a first term Marine decides to leave the Corps, it almost isn’t relevant what it was that he or she did while wearing the uniform.  One thing does remain, however: this individual became a United States Marine —and he or she will always be a United States Marine— even if a chronic complainer.  If there is one thing that every Marine has in common, whether an officer or an enlisted man, it is the amount of complaining they do.  If you find a Marine who isn’t complaining about something, keep an eye on him —he’s probably stealing from the supply section.

Still, no matter what Matt Young says in his book, it isn’t enough to join the Corps.  Almost anyone can do that.  Moreover, almost anyone can end up in a combat unit.  What matters to me is an honest answer to these questions: Have you served honorably and faithfully in an extremely chaotic environment over an extended period of time?  During your service as a Marine, did you keep faith with your fellow Marines, past and present?

One will note that I didn’t say it was necessary that the Corps keep faith with us … only that we Marines keep faith with each other because this is the foundation of our brotherhood; this is what the Marine Corps has always been about.

MILLER JBI do have a bother, however —it is this: young Marines returning from combat, where they formed intense bonds with their fellow Marines, who suddenly find themselves isolated in a completely different environment.  Many of these young men are soon released from active duty and find themselves in the midst of a society that does not understand what they’ve just been through or the things they did for their country.  They are at a place where there is no safety net, and where no one is watching their six —a place where many young men and women struggle to maintain a sense of who they once were only a short time before.  We seem to have plenty of time for classes on gender and civility, but there appears to be no time at all for combat decompression.  Ours is not (and never has been) a good transition.  We (the Marines) could do a lot better in this regard.  Personally, I see this as a monumental failure of senior leadership.

Notes:

  1. The photograph that appears within my last paragraph is that of the iconic James Blake Miller, a Marine who fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah.  The photograph was widely published in the American press; he was tagged “Marlboro Marine.”  Jim Miller suffers from PTSD and is now in recovery.  In my opinion, senior leaders in the Marine Corps deserted this young Marine when what he needed from them was the kind of leadership espoused by Lieutenant General John A. Lejeune, our 13th Commandant.  We talk about this leadership annually as part of our celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday.  Apparently, modern leaders of the Corps would rather talk about it than to act on it.  In my opinion, Jim Miller and thousands of men just like him qualify as being among our nation’s greatest of young patriots.
  2. This post was previously published at my other blog, which I have since re-titled Old West Tales. Since this particular post no longer fits that profile, I’ve re-posted it here.

The Marines’ First Amphibious Raid

Gunpowder 001At the outset of the American Revolution, Great Britain’s governor in Virginia recognized that stores of arms and gunpowder within his control were now threatened by colonial rebels.  Accordingly, he directed that these stores be removed from Virginia and transported to New Providence Island in the Bahamas.  In August 1775, General Gage [1] alerted Governor Montfort Browne, the governor of the Bahamas, that rebels might undertake operations to seize these supplies.

Gunpowder was in short supply in the Continental Army. It was this critical shortage that led the Second Continental Congress to direct planning for a naval expedition to seize military supplies in Nassau.  Congressional instructions issued to Captain Esek Hopkins, who had been selected to lead the expedition, simply instructed him to patrol and raid British naval targets along the Virginia/North Carolina coastline. Hopkins may have been issued additional instructions in secret, but we know that before sailing from Delaware on 17 February 1776, Hopkins instructed his fleet [2] to rendezvous at Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

Continental Fleet At Sea
Continental Fleet

Upon sailing, the fleet encountered gale-force winds but in spite of this, the fleet managed to say together for two days.  Then, Fly and Hornet became separated.  Hornet was forced to return to port for repairs, while Fly did eventually rejoin the fleet.  Undeterred by the loss of two ships, Hopkins continued his mission believing that the gale had forced the British fleet in to port.

In late February, Governor Browne became aware that a rebel fleet was in the process of assembling off the coast of Delaware.  In spite of this, he took no action to prepare an adequate defense.  There were two primary defense works at New Providence: Fort Nassau and Fort Montagu. Fort Nassau was poorly equipped to defend the port against amphibious raids; its walls were not strong enough to support its 46-cannon.  Fort Nassau’s poor state prompted the British to construct Fort Montagu on the eastern end of the harbor in 1742, a position that commanded the entrance to the harbor. At this time, Fort Montagu was fortified with 17-cannon but most of the gunpowder stores and ordnance was held at Fort Nassau.

Hopkins’ fleet arrived at Abaco Island on 1 March 1776. It soon captured two sloops owned and operated by British loyalists, one of whom was Gideon Lowe of Green Turtle Cay. Hopkins pressured the owners to serve as pilots.  George Dorsett, a local ship’s captain, escaped capture and alerted Browne of Hopkins’ arrival.

On the next day, Hopkins directed the transfer of Marines to Providence and the two captured sloops; plans were formulated for an amphibious assault.  The main fleet would hold back as three ships carrying the landing force entered the harbor at daybreak on 3 March.  The intention was to gain control of the town before an alarm could be raised.

As it turned out, a daybreak assault was a huge mistake because the alarm was sounded when the three ships were observed entering the harbor in the morning light.  Roused from his bed, Governor Browne ordered four guns fired from Fort Nassau to alert the militia.  Unhappily, two of these guns came off their mounts at the moment they were fired.  At 0700, Browne held a council of war with Samuel Gambier.  Browne wondered whether he should remove the gunpowder to the Mississippi Packet, a fast ship then docked in the harbor. It was a good idea, but Browne failed to act on it.  Ultimately, Browne ordered thirty unarmed militia to occupy Fort Montagu before retiring to his home for his morning ablutions.

Fort Montagu
Fort Montagu, Nassau

The landing force realized that they had been discovered the moment they heard the guns fired at Fort Nassau; the element of surprise was lost, and the assault was aborted.  Hopkins signaled his fleet to rejoin at Hanover Sound, some six nautical miles east of Nassau.  When the ships were assembled, Hopkins consulted with his captains to rethink the plan of attack [3].  The landing force was increased by fifty sailors.  Along with the Wasp, the three ships of the landing force would proceed to a point south and east of Fort Montagu (pictured right).  The Marines made an unopposed landing between noon and 1400 … it was the first amphibious landing of what became the United States Marine Corps.

Hearing commotion, a British lieutenant by the name of Burke led a detachment of troops out from Fort Montagu to investigate.  Suddenly finding himself significantly outnumbered, he sent a flag of truce to determine the intentions of these men.  He was quickly informed, and perhaps even forthrightly so, that it was their purpose to seize military stores.

Meanwhile, Governor Browne (now freshly coiffed) arrived at Fort Montagu with another eighty militiamen (some of whom were actually armed).  Upon being informed of the size of the landing force, Browne ordered three of Fort Montagu’s guns fired and then withdrew all but a few men back to Nassau. In Nassau, he ordered the militia back to their homes; he retired to the governor’s house to await his fate.

Sometime later, Governor Browne sent Lieutenant Burke to parley with the rebel force.  Burke was instructed to “wait on command of the enemy and know his errand, and on what account he has landed troops here.”

Samuel_Nicholas
Capt Samuel Nicholas

The firing of Montagu’s guns had given Captain Nicholas [4] some pause for concern even though his Marines had already occupied the fort.  He was consulting with his officers when Lieutenant Burke arrived and stated Governor Browne’s message.  Nicholas restated that their mission was to seize the military stores, adding that they intended to do this even if they had to assault the town. Burke carried this message back to Browne; Nicholas and his Marines remained in control of the fort throughout that night —which was another mistake.

That night, Governor Browne held a council of war. The decision was taken to attempt the removal of the gunpowder.  At midnight, 162 of 200 barrels of gunpowder were successfully loaded aboard the Mississippi Packet and HMS St. John.  The ships sailed at 0200 bound for St. Augustine.  This feat was made possible because Commodore Hopkins had anchored his fleet in Hanover Sound, neglecting to post a single ship at the entrance of the harbor.

On the next morning, Captain Nicholas and his Marines occupied Nassau without encountering any resistance.  In fact, the Marines were met by a committee of city officials who offered up the keys to the city.  Commodore Hopkins and his fleet remained in Nassau for two weeks, loading as much weaponry as he could fit into his ships—including the remaining casks of gunpowder.  Hopkins also pressed into service the Endeavor to transport some of the materials.

Governor Browne complained that the rebel officers had consumed most of his liquor stores during their occupation (which is probably true), and that he was placed in chains like a felon when he was arrested and taken aboard Alfred —which is also likely true.

Hopkins’ fleet sailed for Block Island off Newport, Rhode Island on 17 March 1776; he took with him Governor Browne and other British officials as prisoners.  On 4 April, the fleet returned to Long Island where they encountered and captured HMS Hawk.  The next day, the captured HMS Bolton, which was laden with stores including armaments and gunpowder. Hopkins met stiff resistance on 6 April when he encountered HMS Glasgow, a sixth-rate ship [5], but the outnumbered Glasgow managed to escape capture and severely damaged Cabot, wounding her captain, who was Hopkins’ son, John Burroughs Hopkins, and killing eleven crew.  Hopkins’ fleet returned to New London, Connecticut on 8 April.

Governor Browne was eventually exchanged for the American general William Alexander [6] (Lord Stirling).  Browne came under severe criticism for his handling of the defense of Nassau, even though Nassau remained poorly maintained and was subjected to American threats again in early 1778.

Commodore Hopkins, while initially lauded for the success of the assault upon Nassau, his failure to capture HMS Glasgow and complaints from fleet crewman resulted in several investigations and courts-martial.  In spite of the fact that his crew suffered from disease, the captain of Providence was relieved of his command, which was turned over to John Paul Jones —who received a commissioned as captain in the Continental Navy.  Eventually, Commodore Hopkins was forced out of the Navy due to further missteps and accusations relating to his integrity.

The Second Continental Congress promoted Captain Samuel Nicholas to the rank of major and placed him “at the head of the Marines.”

Notes:

[1] Thomas Gage (1718-1787) was a British general officer and colonial official who had many years of service in North America. He served as the British Commander-in-Chief in the early days of the American Revolution.

[2] Hopkins’ fleet consisted of the following ships: Alfred, Hornet, Wasp, Fly, Andrew Doria, Cabot, Providence, and Columbus.  The fleet consisted of 200 Continental Marines under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholas.

[3] Hopkins’ executive officer was John Paul Jones. Initially, it was believed that Jones urged Hopkins toward a new point of attack and then led the assault.  This notion has been discredited because unlike most other of Hopkins’ subordinates, Jones was unfamiliar with the local area. It was more likely that the assault was led by one of Cabot’s lieutenants, Thomas Weaver.

[4] Samuel Nicholas (1744-1790) was the first commissioned officer of the Continental Marines; by tradition, he is considered the first Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

[5] A sixth-rate ship of the British navy typically measured between 450-550 tons, contained 28-guns, and had a crew of about 19 officers, including the captain, two lieutenants, chaplain, and Royal Marine lieutenant.  Quarterdeck warrant officers included the ship’s master, surgeon, assistant surgeon, purser, gunner, bosun, carpenter, two master’s mates, four midshipmen, and a captain’s clerk.  The rest of the crew were lower deck ratings.

[6] At the beginning of the American Revolution, Alexander was commissioned a colonel in the New Jersey colonial militia.  His personal wealth permitted him to outfit the militia at his own expense and he was willing to spend his own money in support of patriot causes.  During an early engagement, Alexander distinguished himself leading volunteers in the capture of a British naval transport.  By an act of the Second Continental Congress, Alexander was commissioned Brigadier General in the Continental Army.

During the Battle of Long Island, Alexander led an audacious attack against a superior British army under General William Howe.  Taking heavy casualties, Alexander was forced to withdraw, which he did in an orderly and distinguished manner.  During this withdraw, he inflicted heavy casualties upon the British, who were in pursuit.  Alexander’s brigade, overwhelmed by a ratio of 25-to-one, Alexander was taken prisoner. Because of his actions, American newspapers hailed him as “the bravest man in America.”

Alexander was exchanged as a prisoner for British Governor Montfort Browne and promoted to major general. He subsequently became one of George Washington’s most trusted generals.