Gone to Fight the Indians —Part I

Trail of Tears
Trail of Tears

It all began innocently enough, as most things do that come out of our nation’s capital. The words even sound reasonable and benevolent: An Act to provide for an exchange of land with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi. The construction of nice sounding words is what lawyers and lawmakers do for a living.

Early in the Nineteenth Century, the Mississippi Territory mostly belonged to the Creek Indian Confederacy. This native population lived in towns, which became significant political and tribal cultural centers were equally important to the personal identity of the people who lived in those towns. The Creek Nation consisted of two primary divisions: those known as the Upper Creek, who occupied territories along the Coosa, Alabama, and Tallapoosa Rivers in central Alabama, and the Lower Creek who lived in the areas along the lower Chattahoochee, Ocmulgee, and Flint Rivers in Southwestern Georgia. These areas generally corresponded to the upper and lower trade routes that connected the Creeks with South Carolina. Although confederated, it was a loose alliance with each tribal town governing itself. The alliance was more important during time of war or during political negotiations with encroaching colonial settlements.

The Removal Act of 1830 came almost as a second shoe to drop following the Red Stick War, fought between 1813 and 1814. Also known as the Creek Indian War, the essence of this conflict was a civil war that occurred mostly in Alabama and along the Gulf Coast. The Red Stick faction deeply resented the federal government’s meddling in Indian affairs, while the Lower Creek factions benefitted from trade with the Americans and sided with them against the traditionalists. A third group of Muscogee existed: the Creeks who ran away. In the Creek language, the word for runaway is simanooli. Today we call these Muscogee Indians, Seminoles.

What makes the Creek Indian War complex is the number of factions and agents involved. An abbreviated version of this was:

• Upper Creek militancy resisting American territorial and cultural encroachments;
• Obstinacy among the Lower Creek, who favored white civilization;
• Foolishness among federal bureaucrats meddling in matters that did not concern them; and
• British and Spanish agents who kept the Indians agitated.

In 1830, the Indian Removal Act had the support of non-Native people in the south who were eager to gain access to lands inhabited by the civilized tribes. Georgia, the largest state at that time, was engaged in a very contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokee people. President Jackson sought to resolve this dispute by removing the Indians from their ancestral lands. There was also significant opposition to the Indian Removal Act: Christian missionaries protested the legislation—notably Jeremiah Evarts, and joining him was New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen and Tennessee Congressman David Crockett.

The wording of the act strongly suggested that Indian removal was a voluntary process: an exchange of land carries with it the connotation that there would be some discussion, negotiation, and a fair swap. It was none of these things. The federal government put great pressure on Native leaders to sign removal treaties, but nearly everyone associated with the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Wyandot, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Shawnee, and Lenape tribes understood that eventually, whites would send them to a new location. Jackson’s landslide victory in 1832 was the “go” signal.

The first removal treaty was the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on September 27, 1830; Choctaw Indians in Mississippi ceded land east of the river in exchange for payment and land in the west. In 1835, the Treaty of New Echota resulted in the removal of the Cherokee. The remaining tribes decided they would not leave without a fight; the Seminoles were no longer running away. To assist the Seminole in their resistance were the Black Seminole, or fugitive slaves living among the Seminole people.

Brevet Brigadier General Archibald Henderson, Commandant of the Marine Corps
Brevet BrigGen Archibald Henderson Commandant of the Marine Corps

During the summer of 1835, Archibald Henderson marched a battalion of United States Marines south to confront Native Americans who decided they would rather fight than switch. It was a long walk; by the time the Marines arrived in southern Alabama, the Creek refusal to relocate to western lands was already resolved. Rather than locating, closing with, and destroying highly agitated Indians, the Marines patrolled the border of Georgia and Alabama on foot and by steamboat. In October, Henderson’s battalion joined with that of Lieutenant Colonel William H. Freeman at Fort Brooke, Florida. Henderson reorganized his force into a regiment of six companies, the strength of which was more than half that of the entire Marine Corps in 1835. Augmenting the Marines were 750 Creek Indian Volunteers. Henderson detailed Marine Corps officers to command some of the Native forces.

Colonel Henderson could not know that he and his Marines would participate in the longest and most costly of all Indian conflicts in the history of the United States. For seven years (1835-1942), eight different generals fought a frustrating war against an elusive adversary, aided by inhospitable terrain, hot, humid weather, and insect borne disease. Concentrating superior modern firepower and discipline against an enemy with no flanks, no lines of communication, no political or industrial bases proved an impossible task for such notable men as Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor.

Opposing America’s finest generals was Billy Powell (1804-1838), a man of mixed Creek-Scotch-Irish-English parentage. Billy’s mother raised him as a Creek Indian. Following their defeat in 1814, Billy’s mother took him south into Florida along with other Red Stick refugees. We know him today as Osceola, the influential leader of the Florida Seminole and one of the southern Creek who decided not to abide by the terms of a treaty negotiated with the United States government.

The Seminole’s first demonstration against forcible relocation was the massacre of a column of 110 soldiers led by Brevet Major Francis Dade on December 28, 1835. There were three survivors to the attack, but Seminoles killed one of those the next day. Of the two remaining survivors, one had no clear memory or understanding of what had transpired. What we know of the event we learned from one solitary survivor. The Second Seminole War was the result of this massacre along with an order to round up and kill every hostile.

Not everyone agreed with this policy: Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock participated in the search for and discovery of the remains of Major Dade’s company. In his journal he wrote about that discovery and his opposition to US policy: “The government is in the wrong, and this is the chief cause of the persevering opposition of the Indians, who have nobly defended their country against our attempt to enforce a fraudulent treaty. The natives used every means to avoid war, but were forced into it by the tyranny of our government.”

Continued Next Week

This Month in History

4 July 1801: President Thomas Jefferson reviewed the Marines, led by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, LtCol William W. Burrows and the Marine Band, on the White House grounds. The smartly uniformed Marines performed drills and fired various salutes in observance of the new nation’s 25th anniversary.

McDonnell Douglas A-4 0016 July 1990: One of the oldest and most versatile attack aircraft in Marine Corps history, the A-4 Skyhawk, retired from the Corps’ active aviation structure after over 30 years of service. The last two Skyhawks from MAG-32 flew their initial flight from Cherry Point to NAS Patuxent River on this date.

7 July 1941: The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing was activated at Quantico, Virginia. Within a year of activation, the Wing would participate in the Marine Corps offensive at Guadalcanal. That bitter campaign would be the first in a series of legendary battles in which the Wing would add luster to its reputation. The 1stMAW would earn five Presidential Unit Citations for gallantry in campaigns spanning World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

11 July 1798: President John Adams approved “An Act for Establishing and Organizing a Marine Corps”, and it became law. The following day, the President appointed William Ward Burrows as Major Commandant, United States Marine Corps.  In August, Major Burrows opened his headquarters in Philadelphia, at that time still the capital of the new nation.

14 July 1993: The USS IWO JIMA was decommissioned after over 30 years of service in a ceremony at Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia. The ship was named for the World War II battle during which three Marine divisions ousted 20,000 entrenched Japanese troops. The Iwo Jima was commissioned 26 August 1961, and it was the first ship specifically designed as an amphibious assault ship from the keel up.

18 July 1918: The 4th Brigade of Marines began an attack near Soissons, France, as part of a three-division counterattack against the Germans. In the first two days of battle, the brigade sustained 1,972 casualties.

Fighting Marines 00224 July 1944: The V Amphibious Corps, commanded by Major General Harry Schmidt, landed on Tinian, in the Mariana Islands. The following morning, the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions began a shoulder-to-shoulder southward sweep of the island. Organized enemy resistance faded within a week, and on 1 August, MajGen Schmidt declared the island secure.

26 July 1947: The National Security Act of 1947 became effective, reaffirming the status of the Marine Corps as a separate military service within the Department of the Navy. The Act Provided for Fleet Marine Forces, and confirmed the Corps’ mission of seizing and defending advanced bases, as well as land operation incident to naval campaigns.

28 July 1918: Brigadier General John A. Lejeune assumed command of the 2d Division, U.S. Army in France, and remained in that capacity until August 1919 when the unit was demobilized. He was the first Marine officer to hold an Army divisional command, and following the Armistice, he led his division in the march into Germany.

Hat tip: Historical Division, HQMC

This Month in History

2 June 1918: At dawn on this date, the crack German 28th Division attacked along the axis of the Paris-Metz road hitting the American 2d Division, including the 4th Marine Brigade. The Marines opened with deadly rifle fire and helped hand the German troops a setback which set the stage for Marine victory at Belleau Wood which would soon follow, although at great cost.

8 June 1995: A Marine tactical recovery team from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit stationed on board the USS Kearsarge rescued a downed U.S. pilot, Captain Scott O’Grady, USAF, from Bosnian-Serb territory in Bosnia.

Fighting Marines 00610 June 1898: The First Marine Battalion, commanded by LtCol Robert W. Huntington, landed on the eastern side of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The next day, Lt Herbert L. Draper hoisted the American flag over Camp McCalla where it flew during the next eleven days. LtCol Huntington later sent the flag with an accompanying letter to Colonel Commandant Charles Heywood noting that “when bullets were flying, …the sight of the flag upon the midnight sky has thrilled our hearts.”

12 June 1961: President John F. Kennedy signed a Presidential Proclamation calling for the American flag to be flown at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, “at all times during the day and night.” Discussions between the Attorney General’s office and Marine Corps officials earlier in 1961 on improving the visibility and appearance of the monument led to the proposal to fly the Flag continuously, which by law could only be done by Congressional legislation or by Presidential proclamation.

Fighting Marines 00115 June 1944: Preceded by naval gunfire and carrier air strikes, the V Amphibious Corps assaulted the west coast of Saipan, Marianas Islands. By nightfall, the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions, moving against heavy opposition, had established a beachhead 10,000 yards wide and 1,500 yards deep.

20 June 1993: The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to Mogadishu, Somalia, to stand ready to assist United Nations forces in maintaining peace in the war-torn country. Earlier that month, the 24th MEU had been ordered to cut short Exercise Eager Mace 93-2 in Kuwait to respond to possible contingency operations in Somalia.

25 June 1950: Shortly before dawn, eight divisions of the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded the Republic of Korea. Within three days, the South Korean capital city of Seoul had been captured. On 30 June, President Harry S. Truman ordered a naval blockade of the Korean coast and authorized the sending of U.S. ground troops to Korea. Two days later, General Douglas MacArthur, the Commander in Chief Far East, formally requested that a Marine regimental combat team be deployed to the Far East.

25 June 1966: In Vietnam, Operation Jay began about 30 kilometers northwest of Hue, and lasted nine days. The 2d Battalion, 4th Marines landed north of the North Vietnamese 812th Main Force Battalion, and the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines landed south of the enemy’s position. Caught in between the two Marine units, the enemy suffered over 80 dead in nine days of fighting.

Fighting Marines 00726 June 1918: BGen James G. Harbord, the Commanding General of the 4th Marine Brigade, notified American Expeditionary Force Headquarters that Belleau Wood was “now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.” After 20 days of combat, and at a cost of over 4,000 casualties, the 4th Brigade of Marines had proven its fighting heart. The grateful Commander of the French Sixth Army would soon decree that in all official correspondence, Belleau Wood would henceforth bear the name, “Bois de la Brigade de Marine.”

Hat tip: Historical Division, HQMC

General Order No. 1

EGA 2014-002Marine sentries are governed by 11 General Orders and such special orders and directives as may be required for a particular guard post or location. A Marine’s first general order is, “Take charge of this post and all government property in view.” That is precisely what the Marines did in 1921 (and again in 1926) when gangsters began robbing the United States Postal Service of its mail and packages. Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby, himself a veteran of Marine Corps service, instructed the Marines as follows:

“You must, when on guard duty, keep your weapons in hand, if attacked, shoot, and shoot to kill. There is no compromise in this battle with bandits. If two Marines guarding a mail car, for example, are suddenly covered by a robber, neither must hold up his hands, but both must begin shooting at once. One may be killed, but the other will get the robbers and save the mail. When our Marine Corps men go as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered or there must be a dead Marine at the post of duty.”

Mr. Denby was not a joking man.

Mail robbery had become a very lucrative business between 1919 and 1921. According to an article by Postal Historian George Corney, about $6 million was lost to mail robbery during these years. In terms of today’s dollars, that would be about $80 million. Train/postal robbery was a worthwhile endeavor back then because registered mail is how most businesses and persons transferred money from one location to another. The worst robbery of all took place in New York City —the loss of $2.4 million in five sacks of registered mail. Today, that would be about $31 million.

The Postmaster General of the United States asked the President for help (on two separate occasions). In 1921, President Harding sent a terse letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Denby:

My Dear Mr. Secretary:

You will detail as guards for the United States Mails a sufficient number of officers and men of the United States Marine Corps to protect the mails from depredations by robbers and bandits.

You will confer with the Postmaster General as to the details, and will issue the necessary instructions in regard to the performance of this duty.

Very truly yours,

Warren G. Harding

It was not very long before the Commandant of the Marine Corps temporarily reassigned 53 officers and 2,200 Marines to duty protecting the United States Mail. These Marines came from the bases at Quantico, Virginia and San Diego, California. Marine commanding officers passed down terse instructions to their Marines, including a training manual formatted as a series of questions and answers. Here are two examples:

Question: Suppose he (the robber) is using a gun or making threats with a gun in trying to escape?

Answer: Shoot him.

Question: Is it possible to make a successful mail robbery?

Answer: Only over the body of a dead Marine.

Of course, so few Marines could not guard every bit of mail and so the Post Office Department decided that Marines would only guard registered mail consisting of a considerable value, particularly mail involving cash and negotiable bonds. The post office consolidated these shipments as much as possible in order to reduce the number of Marines required for such duties.

USMC Mail Guards 001Marines assigned to these duties may have imagined that it was a plum assignment, but it actually involved long, tedious, lonely hours. Not one time during the initial period of guard duty did anyone attempt to rob the U. S. Postal Service. Marines were withdrawn on 15 March 1922.

The break in robberies continued until in April 1923 when a mail messenger in St. Louis was relieved of $2.4 million of registered mail, and a general reescalation of robberies in 1926. In October, a group of gunmen murdered a postal truck driver and made off with $150,000. Once again, the Postmaster requested Marines to guard the mail while the postal service developed its own force of guards and armored trucks. Once again, the Commandant of the Marine Corps detailed 2,500 Marines to postal security duties, this time under the command of two-time Medal of Honor recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler (West Coast Operations), and Major General Logan Feland (East Coast Operations). All 2,500 Marines served on Mail Guard Duty.

By 1926, gangsters had upgraded their firearm capability. Now they were using automatic rifles and machineguns. Marines responded in kind, adding Thompson sub-machineguns to their arsenal of .45 pistols and shotguns. This time, a Marine did fire his weapon. On the night of 26 October 1926, while detailed to a Seattle bound train, Private Fred Jackson discovered an intruder standing on the mail car platform. In spite of the fact that the train was traveling at about 25 miles per hour, Private Jackson ordered the man off the train. The man told Jackson he wasn’t going to do it. Jackson fired a shot above the man’s head, which caused the interloper to rethink his position. As the man jumped from the train, Jackson fired a second shot for good measure. Today this would result in a White House investigation.

Marines were withdrawn from Postal Security Duty in February 1927; they were needed elsewhere. The Banana Wars were once more heating up.

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

When Death Smiles at American Marines ... American Marines Smile back.

Among those interested in military history, and in particular American military history, there are essentially two prevailing opinions about American Marines. The first is that Marines are really quite good at amphibious warfare.  However, those with greater understanding realize that the Marines are more than amphibians; they are chameleons.  Marines aren’t just good at completing their traditional mission of projecting Naval power ashore; they are damn good at fulfilling every mission assigned to them.  What makes this even possible is the attitudes common among Marines: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.

American Marines did not invent amphibious warfare; some form of it has been with us for at least 3,000 years. Julius Caesar, the quintessential field commander, not only made amphibious landings, he also developed ship-borne artillery to support his landing forces. From all this experience through three millennia, we know there are two kinds of amphibious operations: those that were highly successful, and those that were a complete disaster. Of the latter, no greater example exists than the spectacularly unsuccessful amphibious assault on Gallipoli, where of the 499,000 troops landed by allied forces, half were killed, injured, or rendered incapacitated due to sickness and disease.

It was during the period between world wars that the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps developed specialized amphibious warfare doctrine and equipment. In the 1920s, two events propelled the Marine Corps to the forefront of amphibious inquiry. The first of these was the introduction of the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia. The creation of Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune, MCS provided an environment that encouraged enlightened thinking in matters of warfare. Within this school, scholarly officers began asking “what if” questions about the future of war involving the United States. The second event was the rise to prominence of Lieutenant Colonel Earl Hancock “Pete” Ellis, United States Marine Corps.

By this time, it was well known that Japan had seized a number of Pacific islands from the Germans during World War I. Marine scholars began to suspect that Japan was beginning to fortify these islands. Lieutenant Colonel Ellis[1] published a study in 1921 entitled Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia. He not only predicted and outlined every move the US would eventually follow in World War II and warn fellow Marines that the US would eventually face heavily fortified Japanese-held islands. He also predicted the application of advanced warfare technology, such as the aircraft carrier, torpedo planes, and long-range bombers.

From these inquiries, Navy and Marine Corps planners began to devise new troop organizations, new amphibious landing craft, the means of coordinating naval artillery and sea-borne air assault strategies, and logistics methodologies. Navy planners scheduled exercises within the Caribbean area to test hypotheses and it was from these lessons that a formal amphibious doctrine was eventually developed —including the seizure of objectives and the defense of advanced naval bases.

FMF InsigniaBy 1927, the Marine Corps was officially tasked as an advanced base force. On 7 December 1933, Secretary of the Navy Claude Swanson issued General Order 241, which transformed the Advanced Base Forces into the Fleet Marine Forces (FMF). From this point on, the U. S. Marine Corps became America’s quick reaction force. By 1934, Marine Corps tacticians had developed effective amphibious techniques, and in that year the Marine Corps published the Tentative Landing Operations Manual. It was tentative because the Navy and Marine Corps continued to test emerging ideas about amphibious operations. They accomplished this through annual fleet landing exercises. Much of this early information continues to exist in updated field manuals and doctrinal publications.

It will suffice to say that 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, but also trained the U.S. Army divisions that also participated in the island-hopping campaign. What the US Army knew about amphibious operations in the planning and execution of Operation Torch (North Africa, 1942) they obtained from the doctrine developed by the Marine Corps in the two previous decades.

Three months before war broke out on the Korean peninsula in 1950, US Army Chief of Staff General Omar N. Bradley famously said, “The world will never again see a large scale amphibious landing.[2]”  Three months after that, the Marine Corps made an amphibious landing at Inchon, Korea —the master strategy of US Army General Douglas MacArthur.

“An ability to furnish skilled forces to meet emergency situations on short notice has long been a hallmark of the U. S. Marine Corps. When the call came for such a force to be dispatched to Korea on 2 July 1950, the Corps was handicapped by the strictures of a peacetime economy. Nevertheless, a composite brigade consisting of a regiment and an air group was made available within a week’s time.

“With a reputation built largely on amphibious warfare, Marines of the 1st Brigade were called upon the prove their versatility in sustained ground action. On three separate occasions within the embattled Perimeter—south toward Sachon and twice along the Naktong River—these Marine units hurled the weight of their assault force at a determined enemy. All three attacks were successful, and at no point did Marines give ground except as ordered. The quality of their performance in the difficult days of the Pusan Perimeter fighting made them a valuable member of the United Nations team and earned new laurels for their Corps.”

—Lenuel C. Shepherd, Jr., General, U. S. Marine Corps, Commandant of the Marine Corps

What General Shepherd did not say, of course, was that by the time President Truman and Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson finished destroying our defense structure, none of our military services were prepared for another conflict.  The magnitude of the task accomplished by the Marine Corps in the first ten weeks of the Korean War may be fairly judged from the fact that on 30 June 1950, the 1st Marine Division consisted of only 641 officers, and 7,148 enlisted men.  The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing had less than 500 officers and only 3,259 enlisted men.

On 2 August, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade was pressed forward into the Pusan Perimeter with a scant 6,600 infantry and aviation officers and enlisted men.  The Brigade became known as the Fire Brigade; it was also a light brigade because rather than having three full infantry battalions in the regiment, there were only two.  Rather than having three infantry companies in each battalion, there were only two.  Rather than having three infantry platoons within each company, there were only two.

What this meant was that the Marines were going into combat without an organic reinforcing reserve capability.  They were going into combat without the ability to replace casualties.  One may wonder how this was even possible.  The answer, of course, is that American Marines always get the job done —no matter what it takes.  Marines always improvise, adapt, and overcome.

Notes:

[1] Colonel Ellis (1880–1923) served as an intelligence officer whose work became the basis for the American campaign of a series of amphibious assaults that defeated the Japanese in World War II. His prophetic study helped establish his reputation as one of the forefront of naval theorists and strategist of his era, to include foreseeing a preemptory attack by Japan, and island-hopping campaigns in the Central Pacific. Colonel Ellis became the Marine Corps’ first spy whose mysterious death became enclosed in controversy.

[2] USMC Operations in Korea, 1950-1953 Volume I