Divided Nation – Divided Corps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


Just north of the equator on the island of Sumatra is a rich pepper-growing region known as Acheen. It has been part of the American trade routes since the 1790s when New England merchant ships stopped along the island’s west coast to exchange Spanish silver for the spice used to flavor and preserve food. It was all part of a lucrative trans-Atlantic trade arrangement with Northern European trading partners.

In January 1831, the American merchantman Friendship dropped anchor off the Sumatran town of Quallah Battoo to take on a load of pepper. However, instead of pepper, Malay pirates boarded the ship, murdered most of its crew, absconded with its cargo, beached the ship, and ran away laughing. The ship was eventually recaptured and returned to her owner, but not before the owner sent a vigorous protest to President Andrew Jackson demanding retribution.

At the time of the protest, the American frigate Potomac was tied up at New York, rigged and ready to sail to China via Cape Horn and the Pacific. Navy officials soon changed her route to the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean. After five months at sea, Potomac anchored five miles off the coast of Quallah Battoo disguised as a Danish East Indiaman.

Quallah Battoo 1832At two on the morning of 6 February 1832, nearly 300 sailors and Marines entered the ship’s boats and moved off to attack the Malay pirates. In command of the Marines were First Lieutenant Alvin Edson and First Lieutenant George Terrett. Once ashore, the assault company was divided into four platoons, each of these assigned to one of the forts guarding the town of Quallah Battoo. As the first streaks of daylight appeared, Edson led his contingent to a fort nestled in the jungle behind the town. Within minutes of the Marine’s approach, Malays were alerted and intense fighting ensued. Rushing forward, significantly outnumbered Marines exhibited superior discipline and enthusiasm managed to breach the outer walls and capture the fort. Edson, leaving Terrett in charge at Tuko de Lima, took with him a small guard and proceeded through the town to join in efforts to capture the second fort.

It was not long before kris-wielding Malays accosted the small detachment of Marines. Lieutenant Edson was proficient in the use of his Mameluke Sword to dispatch the attackers. Within moments, the second fort fell to the Americans. Then, having dismantled the forts and set the town ablaze, sailors and Marines were recalled to the Potomac, their mission accomplished by 10:00 a.m.   Later in the day, ship’s company stood to render honors to the killed in action, one sailor, and two Marines. The next morning Potomac moved to within a mile of the town and shelled it … a final parting shot to remind the Malay pirates: do not mess with the United States of America.

Endnote: this all occurred back when the American people elected strong presidents who were themselves proud to be an American.


  1. D. Philips, Pepper and Pirates: Adventures in the Sumatra Pepper Trade of Salem, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1949)
  2. N. Reynolds, Voyage of the United States Frigate Potomac, Under the Command of Commodore John Downes, During the Circumnavigation of the Globe, in the years 1831, 1832, 1833, and 1834 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1835)

Painting by Colonel Charles H. Waterhouse, USMCR (Deceased)

Harpers Ferry —Part II

Meanwhile, Colonel Lee and First Lieutenant James Ewell Brown Stuart were meeting with Secretary Floyd as he outlined the crisis. The savage implications were obvious to Lee; he had been at Fort Monroe when Nat Turner set aside the plow to take up the sword. Lee was well aware of the panic that the Turner Rebellion had caused. After receiving the most recent intelligence on the situation at Harpers Ferry, Colonel Lee hurried to the White House where the president handed him a proclamation of martial law, should he need it. Certain that a fight of some kind would result, Stewart volunteered to accompany Lee. Still in civilian attire, the Colonel rushed to the railway station … the Marines already well on their way. A telegram ordered the Marines to delay at Sandy Hook, Maryland —there to await the arrival of the officer commanding.

Colonel Lee arrived at Sandy Hook, which was just across the river from Harpers Ferry, at around 2200 hours. Major Russell and Lieutenant Greene were present on the platform to greet Lee. Lee listened patiently to the briefing accorded him on the events of the previous twenty-four hours. To Lee, the situation did not appear critical. He withheld the martial law decree because he lacked the federal troops needed to patrol the town. Next, Lee sent a telegram cancelling Captain Ord’s movement to Harpers Ferry. Lee would not require any additional troops.

Colonel Lee decided to attack as soon as possible, but hoping to avoid unnecessary danger to the hostages, a night assault was out of the question. Colonel Lee, his aide, and the Marines crossed the river and awaited dawn. At 2300, Lieutenant Green led Marines across the covered bridge and into the armory yard to relieve the militia posted there. The insurgents had taken refuge in a stone building, which housed the armory’s fire fighting equipment.

As the Marines worked their way into position, Colonel Lee began to work on his plan for the next morning. He first drafted a surrender ultimatum, but he was not yet certain who commanded the insurrectionists. Lieutenant Stuart would deliver the ultimatum at Colonel Lee’s direction. Lee decided he would not bargain with these usurpers. At a signal by Stuart, the Marines would batter down the door to the firehouse and pounce on these enemies with bayonet and rifle butt. There could be no shooting because of the danger to the hostages.

Israel Greene (1824-1909)
Israel Greene (1824-1909)

Colonel Lee was sensitive to the fact that the President had imposed federal troops in a community that belonged to a sovereign state. The information in Colonel Lee’s possession was that this was an insurgency directed toward slave-owning states. While true the insurgents were hold up in a federal facility, the Maryland state militia was first on the scene. On this basis, Colonel Lee offered the honor of leading the attack to the officer in charge of the state militia. He declined saying that his only mission was to protect the townspeople at Sandy Hook; beyond that, the Marines were paid to take such risks. Colonel Lee then turned to the militia officer commanding Virginia troops and offered the honor to him. He also declined, suggesting that he was perfectly willing to allow the “mercenaries” to do the job. Finally, Colonel Lee turned to First Lieutenant Greene and asked of him, “Sir will you accept the honor of leading the attack?” Greene removed his hat, bowed slightly, and responded, “Gladly, sir.”

At 0630, Greene received his orders: form twelve men into a storming party; another dozen men behind them would be the storming party’s reserve. Three additional men in each party would arm themselves with sledgehammers to knock down the door. Twenty seven Marines, with Green and Russell at their head, would gather close to the engine house, but out of the insurgent’s line of fire, there to await Lieutenant Stuart’s signal.

Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart marched forward bearing a flag of truce. Halting his line of march before the engine house, he called out, “Mr. Smith.”

The center doors opened a few inches. There, carbine in hand stood Kansas John Brown; lean, fierce looking, and the cause of the Osawatomie Creek massacres. Stuart recited Colonel Lee’s demand for immediate surrender, but Brown wanted to bargain. Stuart stepped out of the line of fire and gave his signal. The Marines leapt immediately into their assault, three flailing away with sledgehammers on the cedar doors quickly shut and held fast.

From inside the firehouse came the plea of Colonel Washington, “Don’t mind us, Fire!” Colonel Lee recognized the man’s voice and said quietly, “The old revolutionary blood does tell.”

Harpers Ferry: The Assault
Harpers Ferry: The Assault

Lieutenant Green suddenly noticed a ladder lying near the engine house. Ordering his men to snatch it up, the Marines used it as a battering ram; its second blow smashed through the opening and the Marines stormed inside just as Brown was loading his weapon. Armed with only a light dress sword, Greene jumped from the cover of the abutment and rushed through the opening, Major Russell (unarmed) right behind. The darkened interior rocked to the echoing sounds of gunfire. The third Marine inside was Private Luke Quinn, who caught a bullet in his abdomen; the fourth Marine slightly injured in the face.

The first figure to arise from the gloom of the engine house was Colonel Washington who walked toward his friend Lieutenant Greene, embraced him, and then pointed to John Brown saying, “There is Osawatomie.” With all of his strength, Greene slashed Brown with his sword. His first blow left a deep cut across his neck, but the frail blade of the dress sword bent double on Brown’s ammunition belt when Green attempted to thrust it into his heart. Thus, John Brown was spared for the hangman.

The 32-hour siege ended in only three minutes. No harm came to any hostage. Marines suffered two men wounded, one of them fatally. Brown, his wounded and semi-conscious son, and four able-bodied riflemen had defended the engine house. Of these, two were killed, and others taken prisoner. All prisoners received accommodations at the Charles Town jail. A slave uprising had not occurred; the pikes provided by traitors from Massachusetts went unused. In the final analysis, John Brown was a useful idiot to the progressive mentality. Harpers Ferry was an ill-planned, poorly executed attempt to defy the lawful authority of states. Nevertheless, it did accomplish one thing: it provided one more trigger leading our nation to civil war.

As with many officers of this period, First Lieutenant Israel Greene, United States Marine Corps, would have to make a decision. A New Yorker by birth, a Wisconsinite by rearing, a Virginian by marriage, and a Marine by profession, several states sought his services when the time came to choose sides in 1861. He declined an appointment as lieutenant colonel in the Virginia infantry; he declined to accept appointment as a colonel in the Wisconsin militia. He instead accepted a captaincy in the Confederate Marine Corps. As a major, serving as adjutant and inspector, Israel Greene survived the Civil War. After his parole in 1865, Greene took his wife and family west to Mitchell, South Dakota. There he lived out the balance of his days. He passed away in 1909 at the age of 84 —fifty years after his short moment in the spotlight of America’s history.


Post Script
I must also ask to express … my entire commendation of the conduct of the detachment of Marines, who were at all times ready and prompt in the execution of any duty.
—Robert E. Lee, Brevet Colonel, Army of the United States

Harpers Ferry —Part I

The American Civil War did not just happen one day. It was a travesty long expected even as men spoke of saving the Union. The trigger events included: The Missouri Compromise (1820), Nat Turner’s Rebellion (1831), The Wilmot Proviso (1846-1850), The Compromise of 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s fictional book titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the Dred Scott Decision of 1857, and John Brown’s Raid of Harpers Ferry in 1859.

John Brown was born in 1800, the son of Owen Brown and Ruth Mills. His roots were deeply religious, and his life experiences nothing if not tragic and depressing. Married twice, he raised twenty children. A tanner by trade, his businesses failed one after another. Moving again to the ideologically progressive community of Springfield, Massachusetts, Brown felt at home at a place emotionally invested in the abolition movement. Perhaps the murder of a Presbyterian minister by a pro-slavery mob pushed him in this direction. In any case, by 1855, Brown learned from his sons living in Kansas that pro-slavery forces were militant and dangerous to abolitionists. Determined to help protect his family and oppose the pro-slavery movement, Brown went to Kansas with brief stops in Albany, New York and the Western Reserve section of Ohio where he obtained moral and financial support for his cause.

Kansas John Brown, 1856
Kansas John Brown, 1856

In Kansas, things were heating to a boil: on the one side, ruffians threatened to take the state by force if necessary and establish a pro-slavery government. Standing opposed to this movement was Brown and his followers, equally dedicated to bringing Kansas to statehood as a free state. The sacking of Lawrence, Kansas in 1856 and Preston Brooks’ caning of Charles Sumner angered Brown. Before the Pottawatomie Massacre, 8 people had lost their lives in the Kansas dispute; after abolitionists massacred the Doyle family in May 1856, 29 were killed in retaliation —hence the name, Bleeding Kansas.

John Brown returned to the east where he raised funds and gathered forces. By now, Brown was convinced that the only solution to the slavery problem was through violent action. He intended to attack slave owners. Harriet Tubman, who had access to networks and resources that could assist Brown, joined him. For his part, Brown felt that the creation of a state for freed slaves and a demonstration that he was fighting for them would lead to a massive slave revolt across the south.

Brown arrived in Harpers Ferry on July 3, 1859. He rented a farmhouse in nearby Maryland under the name Isaac Smith; there he awaited thee arrival of his recruits. They never materialized. In late August, Brown met with Frederick Douglas and revealed his plan for attacking the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Douglas had known about the plan for some time and had encouraged blacks not to join Brown in this endeavor. In late September, Brown’s pikes arrived; there were 950 of these. The plan called for a Brigade of 4,500 men … Brown had 21 (16 white, 5 black). His troops ranged in age from 21 years to 49. Twelve had served with Brown in Kansas. Brown led his force of 18 men in an attack on October 16, 1859. Brown left three men at the farmhouse as a rear guard.

Brown’s men were armed with Beecher’s Bibles, code name for the breech loading Sharps Rifles smuggled to him by the cowardly insurrectionist Henry Ward Beecher: always selecting a weaker intellect to do his bidding, never able to quite get it done himself —which I feel is typical of the so-called progressive mindset. The weapons were called Beecher’s Bibles because he shipped them in crates marked as “books.”

In seizing the armory, Brown gained access to 100,000 muskets and rifles. He planned to use these weapons to arm local slaves, and then heading south, draw off more slaves from plantations and fight only in self-defense. This strategy, Brown felt, would collapse one county after another, denying economic viability within pro-slave states.

Brown met no resistance entering the town of Harpers Ferry. They cut telegraph wires and captured the armory by defeating a single watchman. Next, Brown rounded up hostages, including the great-grandnephew of George Washington, Colonel Lewis Washington. They spread word everywhere to all slaves that their liberation was at hand. An eastbound train approached the town and the baggage master attempted to warn passengers of the insurrection. Brown’s men opened fire and killed Hayward Shepherd, the baggage master, who became the first casualty of the Brown insurrection. He was also a free black man. Two of Washington’s slaves also died in the raid.

The first word of the raid came from by telegraph by A. J. Phelps, the Through Express passenger train conductor. His abbreviated message: “Express train bound east under my charge was stopped this morning at Harper’s Ferry by armed abolitionists. They have possession of the bridge and the arms and armory of the United States.” News of the raid reached Baltimore early that morning and then on to Washington by later morning. In the meantime, local farmers and shopkeepers pinned down the raiders in the armory by firing from the heights from the town, some local men received wounds from Brown’s men.

Colonel Robert E. Lee, 1858
Colonel Robert E. Lee, 1859

A message reporting the insurrection at Harpers Ferry arrived on the desk of Secretary of War John B. Floyd late in the morning of October 17, 1859. Floyd was not known as an able administrator but on this particular morning, there was no time for the shuffling of paper, or spending too much time on minute details. Floyd was a Virginian and well aware of the events surrounding Nat Turner’s rebellion and what happened at Haiti at the start of the century. He sent a telegram to Fort Monroe and by noon, Captain Edward O. C. Ord with 150 artillerymen was already on his way to Baltimore, the first stop on the way to Harpers Ferry. Floyd also summoned from his home across the river Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee, who would command the military response.

President Buchanan suggested to Mr. Floyd that he was not moving fast enough. There were no troops closer to the scene of the action than at Fort Monroe and he was in a quandary about what to do. He was unable to find any troops closer to Harpers Ferry than those under Captain Ord were. Then, miraculously, Navy Secretary Isaac Toucey offered Floyd a solution: United States Marines. Shortly thereafter, the Chief Clerk of the Navy Department galloped through the main gate of the Washington Navy Yard and asked for First Lieutenant Israel Greene, who was temporarily in command of the Marine Barracks. Asked how many Marines Greene had at his disposal, Greene answered, “around ninety men.”

Upon return to the Navy Department, Toucey sent an order to Colonel Commandant John Harris: “Send all available Marines at Head Quarters under charge of suitable officers by this evening’s train of cars to Harpers Ferry to protect the public property at that place, which is endangered by a riotous outbreak.” Once the Marines arrived at their destination, they would serve under the command of the senior Army officer present.

Colonel Harris was concerned that First Lieutenant Greene may lack the necessary experience to command such a force of Marines; after all, he only had twelve years service. The only other senior officer was Major William W. Russell, the paymaster. Russell, a staff officer, probably had less field experience than did Lieutenant Greene. Harris placed Russell in charge of the Marine contingent, assisted by First Lieutenant Greene. Greene, meanwhile, demonstrated detached professionalism making sure that each of his eighty-six Marines had drawn necessary equipment for field operations: musket, ball, rations. Because no one had a clear idea what was going on at Harpers Ferry, the Marines also prepared two 3-inch howitzers. At 1500 hours, Russell and his Marines boarded the westbound train for Harpers Ferry.