First Marine Battalion, 1898

John Davis Long served as Secretary of the Navy during the presidency of William McKinley.  Long’s appointment was not without controversy.  Apparently, President McKinley made the appointment without a wink or a nod from Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.  The situation involved some political infighting, which is always the case in national politics.  However, to appease Lodge, McKinley appointed Theodore Roosevelt to the Navy Department’s number-two position.  Roosevelt’s appointment satisfied Lodge because, given Long’s reputation as a hands-off manager, he could count on Roosevelt to “run the show.”

Theodore Roosevelt Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1898

Regarding increasing tensions with Spain, Secretary Long (and others) were doubtful these disagreements were likely to end in an armed conflict, but if it did, Secretary Long was confident that the United States would win it in short order.  Accordingly, Long took no actions to prepare for a state of war with Spain.  Long’s nonchalance was a source of irritation to Roosevelt.  In January 1898, out of concern for the safety of Americans in Cuba, Long ordered the USS Maine to Havana as a show of force.  Within a month, tensions between the US and Spain had reached the crisis stage; with Roosevelt’s insistence, Long finally began to prepare for war.  On 15 February 1898, the USS Maine exploded while at anchor, causing massive casualties.  Of the 26 officers, 290 sailors, and 39 Marines aboard the Maine, 260 men lost their lives, including 28 Marines.

The sinking of the Maine produced a public demand for satisfaction, sentiments echoed by Roosevelt.  Ten days later, Secretary Long took a day off from work.  His absence enabled Roosevelt to issue a series of directives designed to increase the Navy’s readiness for war, including an order to Commodore George Dewey to assume an aggressive posture in the Spanish Philippines.  When Long returned to work, he countermanded some of Roosevelt’s directives, but he did increase his interest in naval preparations for war.

On 16 April, five days before the war began, Secretary Long ordered the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General Charles Heywood, to organize one battalion of Marines for expeditionary duty with the North Atlantic Squadron.  Heywood’s battalion was named the First Marine Battalion.  Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Huntington, USMC, was appointed to command it.

Robert W. Huntington LtCol USMC Commanding Officer

The US Congress declared war on Spain on 25 April, effective retroactively from 21 April 1898.  Colonel Huntington had nearly 40 years of active duty service when he assumed command of the First Marine Battalion; he was a veteran of the American Civil War.  On 17 April, Huntington organized his battalion into four companies.  The Commandant’s earlier proposal for a second battalion was never implemented because, at the time, the Marine Corps did not have enough enlisted men to form another battalion while at the same time fulfilling its usual task guarding naval installations.  The First Marine Battalion was instead expanded to six companies: five rifle companies and one artillery company.  Each company had an authorized strength of 103 enlisted Marines, 1 First Sergeant, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 1 drummer, 1 fifer, and 92 privates.  The battalion command element included the Commanding Officer (CO), Executive Officer (XO), Adjutant, Quartermaster, and a Navy surgeon.  The battalion color guard included one sergeant and two corporals.

The battalion quartermaster, Major Crawley, excelled in provisioning the Marines for combat duty, and the battalion was ready to deploy on 22 April.  On that date, the Marines marched down to the pier and boarded USS Panther.  Citizens observing the movement from the sidelines cheered their Marines; there was no lack of enthusiasm for a war with Spain.  Panther was underway by 20:00 that very night.  The battalion, numbering 650 officers and men, produced over-crowded conditions aboard a ship designed to carry 400 combatants.  Each meal required three separate servings.

Panther pulled into port at Hampton Roads, Virginia, to await its naval escort[1].  While in port, Major Percival C. Pope and First Lieutenant James E. Mahoney reported to LtCol Huntington for duty at sea and on foreign shore.  The ship continued her journey on 26 April with USS Montgomery as her escort.

The ship’s overcrowded conditions caused some tension and conflict between the ship’s captain and the Battalion commander.  At issue was the duties of Marines while embarked and the right of the navy to discipline Marines.  When Panther arrived in Key West, Florida, Commander George C. Reiter[2], Commanding Officer of Panther, ordered Huntington to disembark his Marines and set up a camp ashore.  Major General Commandant Heywood demanded to know why Reiter ordered the Marines ashore, particularly since Panther was the only troop carrier available to transport the Marines.  Reiter explained that sending the Marines ashore relieved the crowded conditions aboard ship.

Colonel Huntington’s battalion remained ashore for two weeks.  During that time, they exchanged their heavy winter uniforms for summer weight clothing.  Marines with too much leisure time always find ways of getting into mischief, so Huntington ordered a training program involving rifle marksmanship, field sanitation, and company, platoon, and squad tactics.  Marines who were not engaged in one form of training or another were assigned shore patrol duty to ensure that the Marines behaved themselves while on liberty.

With the receipt of new Colt model machine guns, Huntington ordered his machine gunners to attend instruction on crew-serve weapons’ care, maintenance, and employment.  He also provided instruction in fighting in the tropics, the importance of boiling water, and mess cooks learned how to create healthy menus and prepare nutritionally sound meals to help prevent dysentery and diarrhea.  Navy Assistant Surgeon John Blair Gibbs[3] joined the battalion on 1 June 1898.

On 7 June 1898, the Navy Secretary ordered, “Send the Marine Battalion at once to Sampson without waiting for the Army.  Send Yosemite as a convoy escort.”  Huntington’s battalion re-embarked aboard ship and sailed for Cuba.  Major Pope, hospitalized with an illness, remained behind.

During the night of 9 June, Panther and Scorpion collided while at sea.  Scorpion suffered some damage to her fantail, but nothing critical.  Panther arrived at Santiago, Cuba, on the morning of 10 June, and Colonel Huntington reported to Admiral William T. Sampson, who, as Commander-in-Chief of the North Atlantic Squadron, served as the overall naval force commander.  Sampson directed Huntington to report to Commander Bowman H. McCalla, USN[4] aboard USS Marblehead, who would serve as landing force commander.

Commander McCalla entered Guantanamo Bay on 7 June to clear the outer harbor.  A Spanish artillery battery near the telegraph station at Cayo de Toro (on the western side of the bay) fired on the Marblehead and Yankee.  The Spanish gunboat Sandoval soon arrived down the channel from Caimanera to challenge the US presence there, but when Marblehead and Yankee opened fire, Sandoval withdrew.

The importance of Guantanamo Bay was its geography.  Guantanamo has an inner and outer bay, the latter offering good anchorage because of its depth.  The outer bay was an ideal location for coaling operations.  Because of its utility to the Navy, Admiral Sampson sent the Marines to protect ships at anchorage by denying Spanish troops the opportunity to fire at the ships from shore locations.

On 10 June, Commander McCalla ordered Marines from several ship’s detachments ashore to conduct reconnaissance missions inside Guantanamo Bay.  Captain M. D. Goodrell led forty Marines from USS Oregon and twenty additional Marines from USS Marblehead ashore.  Having completed his reconnaissance mission, Goodrell selected a bivouac site for the First Marine Battalion and afterward briefed Colonel Huntington on his designated position ashore.

By the end of the day on 10 June, U.S. Navy ships, including three cruisers (Marblehead, Yankee, Yosemite), the battleship Oregon, torpedo boat Porter, gunboat Dolphin, the collier Abarendo, transports Vixen and Panther and several privately-owned vessels containing journalists dominated Guantanamo’s outer bay.

Colonel Huntington’s battalion began its movement ashore at 1400 with four companies; two companies remained aboard ship to help with unloading supplies.  Company “C” was the first element ashore and assumed responsibility for area security as skirmishers at the top of a hill overlooking the bay.  Sergeant Richard Silvey planted the American flag on the hill, marking the first time the American flag ever flew over Cuba.  Two hundred feet below Company “C” was a small fishing village, which McCalla had ordered fired for health reasons.  The Commander prohibited everyone from entering these buildings.  The remainder of Huntington’s battalion went ashore on 11 June.

Colonel Huntington was not pleased with the bivouac site because it was vulnerable to attack from a ridgeline 1,200 yards to the rear of his position.  McCalla politely listened to Huntington’s complaint and then informed the colonel that he would remain where sited.  The navy needed the Marines to protect ships at anchor from enemy shore bombardment.

Spanish forces first attacked a Marine outpost late that night, killing Privates Dumphy and McColgan of Company “D.”  Due to nasty post-mortem injuries, their remains were difficult to identify.  Contrary to reports in the press, the Marine’s remains were not mutilated, per se, but McColgan did suffer 21 shots to the head, and Dumphy fifteen.  Later in the night, Spanish troops initiated five separate attacks on Marine position, all repulsed.  At about 0100, a Spanish force launched a concerted attack against the Marine perimeter.  During the assault, Spanish riflemen killed Assistant Surgeon Gibbs.  Well-camouflaged Spaniards continued to direct sporadic fire into the Marine perimeter.  Spain’s use of smokeless gunpowder made it difficult for Marines to detect firing positions.

On the morning of 12 June, after the death of Sergeant Charles H. Smith, Huntington moved the camp further down the hill, closer to the beach, to a place known as Playa de Este.  The Marines prepared fighting holes on the hill’s crest and designed earthworks in the shape of a square with a blockhouse in the center, and artillery pieces placed at each corner of the square and mutually supporting machine guns were positioned along the sides.  The earthworks stood chest-high; on the outside of the dirt walls, the Marines dug trenches, measuring five feet deep and ten feet wide.  That afternoon, another Spanish assault killed Private Goode Taurman.

Navy Chaplain Harry Jones, serving aboard USS Texas, having heard of the Marine deaths, volunteered to go ashore and conduct funeral services.  Throughout the services, Spanish sharpshooters targeted Chaplain Jones and harassed the Marines by firing into the makeshift church.  The undaunted Jones nevertheless performed the funeral rites with dignity and aplomb.

Aboard Panther, Commander Reiter’s obstinance continued as he balked at having to unload Marine ammunition and stores.  This problem was solved when Commander McCalla directed that Panther unload 50,000 rounds of ammo with the further admonition, “Do not require Huntington to break out and land his stores or ammo.  Use your own officers and crew.”

Ashore, Sergeant Major Henry Good was killed in a Spanish attack on the night of 12 June.  When the Spanish re-initiated their attack on the morning of 13 June, Colonel Huntington decided he’d had enough harassment by Spanish troops and ordered the destruction of a water-well in frequent use by the Spanish at Cuzco.  It was the only source of freshwater within twelve miles.  With two companies of Marines and fifty Cuban rebels, Captain George F. Elliott[5] proceeded to Cuzco with USS Dolphin providing naval gunfire support from the sea.  Journalist Stephen Crane[6] volunteered to act as Elliott’s adjutant if allowed to accompany the Marines; Huntington granted his request[7].

Sgt Quick in Cuba 1898 USMC Recruiting Poster

Approaching the Spanish defenses at Cuzco, the Marines encountered stiff enemy resistance.  Lieutenant Magill led fifty additional Marines and ten Cubans to reinforce Elliott.  Magill’s mission was to cut off the enemy’s line of retreat, but Dolphin’s naval artillery prevented his advance.  To redirect the ship’s fire, Sergeant John Quick volunteered to signal the ship and did so while exposing himself to intense enemy fire.  In recognition of his selfless devotion, Congress awarded Quick the Medal of Honor.

Ultimately, Spanish troops did escape the Marine assault, but not without incurring significant losses.  Elliott’s force suffered few casualties; two Cubans killed, and three Marines wounded.  Lieutenant Wendell C. Neville[8] was injured while descending the mountain during the engagement.  Twenty-three Marines suffered heat exhaustion and required medical evacuation.  Commander McCalla opined, “…the expedition was most successful, and I cannot say too much in praise of the officers and men who took part in it.”  Subsequently, Spanish probes and sniper attacks on Marine positions were rare.  On 15 June, naval gunfire destroyed the Spanish fort at Caimanera on the bay’s eastern side.

USS Resolute[9], loaded with stores for the Marines, arrived late in the day on 20 June.  Admiral Sampson ordered all stores located on the Panther transferred to Resolute.  On the 24th of June, McCalla ordered a reconnaissance in force to determine if Spanish forces still occupied the extremities of Punta del Jicacal, on the eastern side of Guantanamo Bay.  Early on the morning of 25 June, Huntington assembled 240 men and led them by boat across the bay.  Following the Marines were sixty Cubans under Colonel Thomas.  When the Marines went ashore, they discovered that the Spanish had already withdrawn.

On 3 July, during the naval battle of Santiago, the US Navy destroyed the Spanish navy.  With hundreds of Spanish seamen in the water, the American navy assumed responsibility for rescuing and caring for Spanish survivors.  Over the next several days, the Navy organized Marine guards to escort these prisoners to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Huntington was forced to give up sixty Marines for this duty, and additional Marines augmented them from ship’s detachments.

On 12 July, Commander McCalla ordered Huntington to quarantine the harbor at Guantanamo Bay.  It was more on the order of peacetime duty, which with time on their hands, the Marines began to create their own diversions.  Two Marines decided to raid stores aboard a privately-owned schooner in the harbor, and another was discovered buying liquor from a local source, which was prohibited.  Private Robert Burns, while on guard duty, shot and killed an enormous black pig.

USS Resolute

The First Marine Battalion broke camp on 5 August and boarded USS Resolute for operations at Manzanillo.  The Spanish commander was offered the opportunity to surrender but declined to do so as a point of honor.  Advised to evacuate the town of all civilians, the commander of USS Alvarado signaled that he intended to commence a bombardment at 1530 hours.  The shelling began in 1540 and lasted until 1615 when it appeared that flags of peace were flying over some of the town’s buildings.  Captain Goodrich, commanding Alvarado, sent a boat ashore flying a truce flag, but when the boat received enemy fire, the bombardments continued.  Gunfire terminated at 1730 for the night but resumed at 0520 the next morning.  After daylight, a boat from Manzanillo approached the fleet bringing word that officials had proclaimed a truce and the war was over.  Disappointment among the Marines was evident.

On 18 August, after taking aboard 275 men from an artillery battalion, Resolute embarked for Long Island, dropped off the soldiers, and then continued onward to New Hampshire … chosen by Commandant Heywood to provide the Marines some respite from the tropical heat.  General Heywood greeted his Marines as they came ashore, promoted six of the battalion’s officers for gallantry, and praised the men for their exceptional conduct.  On 19 September, Colonel Huntington received orders to disband the First Marine Battalion.

One remarkable aspect of the battalion’s experience in Cuba was the excellent health of the Marines.  There had not been a single case of yellow fever, dysentery, or diarrhea, which stood in contrast to other US troops’ experience, who were seriously affected by these illnesses.  Major Crowley reported that the use of distilled water for drinking and cooking, good field sanitation, and sufficient food and clothing enabled the Marines to return to the United States “fit for duty.”  Crawley was also insightful in purchasing empty wine casks for use as water containers, which increased the amount of water that could be kept on hand while encamped.

At a parade attended by President McKinley, Sergeant Quick received the medal of honor, and the president announced that a hospital in Kentucky would be named in his honor.

One aspect of the war that surprised Colonel Huntington and his Marines was the amount of favorable press coverage they had received during the conflict.  They were not only the first combat troops ashore, but they were also facing superior[10] numbers of the enemy in their engagements.  As a result of these press reports, the American public learned for the first time about the usefulness of the U. S. Marine Corps as a fighting force.  The press also praised the Marines for their general healthfulness and contrasted this result with the debilitating disease experienced by army units in the same conflict.

The Spanish-American War also demonstrated that the Marine Corps could play an essential role in future Naval operations and this was important because, as a result of the war with Spain, the United States had acquired Pacific bases that would require a military defense of the Philippines, Guam, and additional Pacific Ocean area advanced bases.  The war also illustrated how quickly a Marine Corps combat unit could be assembled and dispatched to foreign shore[11].  Subsequently, “combat readiness” became the hallmark of the United States Marines —and continues to this very day.

Sources:

  1. Clifford, J. H. History of the First Battalion of Marines.  Washington: Marine Corps Historical Center, 1930.
  2. Collection of private papers, Colonel Robert Watkinson Huntington, USMC (Retired), Marine Corps University archives, and Gray Research Center, Quantico, Virginia.
  3. Documented histories, Spanish-American War, Naval History and Heritage Command, online.
  4. Feuer, A. B. The Spanish American War at Sea.  Greenwood Publishing, 1995.
  5. Stewart, R. W. The U. S. Army and the Forging of a Nation, 1775-1917.  Washington: Center of Military History, 2005.
  6. Sullivan, D. M. The United States Marine Corps in the Civil War, Volume 1, 1997

Endnotes:

[1] Panther required an escort because the ship was unable to defend herself at sea.

[2] Reiter was promoted to Rear Admiral (Lower Half) in 1905 and was detailed to Chair the Lighthouse Board until his retirement in 1907.

[3] The 40-year old Dr. John Gibbs was among the first medical doctors to receive an appointment as a surgeon in the US Navy Medical Corps.  He was instrumental in helping Colonel Huntington train his Marines in field sanitation, nutrition, and healthy cooking.  Within a few days, a Cuban sniper would kill Gibbs while he carried out his duties as a field surgeon.

[4] McCalla (1844-1910) was a Civil War veteran of the US Navy whose courage under fire and leadership earned him the respect and admiration of Navy and Marine Corps officers alike.  McCalla participated in the blockade of Cuba and was responsible for cutting submarine cables linking Cienfuegos with the outside world, thus isolating the Spanish garrison there, and led the invasion of Guantanamo Bay.  Advanced to Rear Admiral in 1903, McCalla retired from active duty service in 1906.

[5] Served as the tenth Commandant of the Marine Corps (1903-1910).

[6] Authored the Red Badge of Courage in 1895.

[7] On 18 June, Colonel Huntington received an order from McCalla not to allow any reporters near his camp or enter his lines without a pass from McCalla.  Any reporter attempting to do so was to be arrested as a POW and taken to the Marblehead.

[8] Awarded the Medal of Honor, served as fourteenth Commandant of the Marine Corps (1929-1930), died in office.

[9] Formerly, SS Yorktown, she was purchased by the US Navy on 21 April 1898 for service as an auxiliary cruiser/troop transport.

[10] Spanish forces outnumbered Americans 7 to 1.

[11] At the beginning of the war, the United States Armed Forces were unprepared for foreign conflict.  The Navy was barely adequate to its task, the Army was understaffed, underequipped, and under-trained.  The army’s only recent combat experience was the Indian wars in the American west.  What may have “saved” the Americans during this war was the fact that the Spanish were even less ready for war.  Thanks to the urgings of Theodore Roosevelt, Dewey’s Pacific Fleet was well positioned to strike the Spanish in Manilla Bay.  Operationally, it may have been one of the Navy’s greatest successes, although the Navy’s destruction of the Spanish fleet won the war in Cuba.

The Gun Maker

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

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

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

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

Some Background

The Puckle Gun

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

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

Gatling Gun

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

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

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

First World War 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B. A. R.

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

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

The Man

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

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

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

John Moses Browning

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

The Legacy

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Endnotes:

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

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

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

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

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

Admiral of the Navy

Some background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish-American War

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

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

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

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

The U. S. Coast Guard Joins the Fight

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

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

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

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

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

Philippine Occupation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Endnotes:

[1] Second in command.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retribution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colonel Meade’s lieutenants had taken their revenge.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Hard Drinking Fellows

As a youngster watching Saturday-afternoon matinee films, I never gave much thought as to the social implications of alcohol in western or war film presentations.  Nor did anyone ever suggest to me that I should refrain from watching John Wayne films, given that by reputation, he was a hard-drinking fellow in real life.  I do recall in several Wayne films in which he (as a crusty old cavalry officer) and Victor McLaglen (as an equally crusty old top sergeant) were able to consume copious amounts of whiskey and still perform their duties as military leaders.  In one film, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Sergeant Stryker had been busted in rank from sergeant-major —this the result of a drinking problem no one in the Marine Corps would countenance (from a senior enlisted man).

The scenario I have described above was not beyond the pale; I have seen this very same thing happen in real life where the Marine Corps reduced senior NCOs with significant alcohol problems to a lower pay grade, or forced them into retirement.  Of course, such punishments were never gleefully effected and certainly not without due and appropriate warnings and if we are honest, circumstances were almost always more than merely drinking to excess.  The range of difficulties frequently involved civil or military arrest for driving under the influence, spouse abuse issues, showing up for duty while inebriated, or maybe not showing up for duty at all.

None of these sorts of things bode well for a careerist —unless you happened to be an officer with a den-daddy.  Lieutenant Colonel Earl H. Ellis was one of these —protected by none other than two Commandants of the Marine Corps, Major Generals George Barnett and John A. Lejeune.  Lejeune, in fact, protected Ellis so well that Ellis eventually drank himself to death.

As previously mentioned, Marines were long known for their hard-drinking (and fighting among themselves in the absence of soldiers or sailors), but in fairness, hard drinking was quite normal in all services, and apparently, in most westernized nations.  For many years, rum rations were issued to the crews of American and British warships.  The American navy halted this practice in 1862; the British navy followed suit nearly 100 years later.  Booze was also issued to ground troops, but suspended during periods of temperance movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

A decision to reintroduce rum rations during the harsh winter of 1914-1915 caused a fierce controversy in the United Kingdom.  Medical doctors were divided between those who saw rum rations a morale-boosting measure, and those who considered it harmful to health and performance.  I wasn’t there of course, but from what I read about the trench warfare of World War I, a daily tot of rum was the least of their problems —and it is difficult to imagine that anyone would send an inebriated rifleman/sniper out on a critical mission.  On the other hand, under circumstances of such stress, one can see the likely calming effect from a tot of rum.  Of the total numbers of British and American troops killed in World War I, the percentage of those who died from exposure to rum must be miniscule.

Still, there is a favorite argument among temperance fanatics and teetotalers to the effect that anyone unable to control his (or her) intake of alcohol lacks spiritual strength.  I’ve heard the same argument about those who smoke in the face of overwhelming evidence of the health risks.  No doubt, Marcus Aurelius would agree; several of his fourteen virtues would seem to make that argument.  Still, should we assume that a drinking man is without any virtues at all?

Let me now introduce you to a fellow by the name of Hiram Eddings Bearss.  In his day, Marines nicknamed him “Hiking Hiram.”  As a youth, Hiram hated his name; he much preferred being called “Mike.”

Bearss was born in 1875 in Peru, Indiana.  He was a troublesome young man, prone to fighting and not doing very well in school … but he did well enough to finish his education (if that is ever possible).  In his youth, he had a knack for horsemanship and sports.  Over several years, Bearss attended college at Notre Dame, Perdue, Depauw, and Norwich Military, where it seems he finally settled down.  Most of his problems at university stemmed from the fact that he liked rough and tumble sports and the kind of drinking associated with those interests.  At age 21 Bearss had finally learned how to learn, and while he was known as a bright young man, this only applied to the things that held his interest.  Bearss’ father wanted him to study law, and he did that for a period of about 18 months.  Although he gained admission to the bar in Indiana, the law did not hold his interest.  A restless Bearss began looking around for something more exciting to do with his life.  A news headline captured his attention:  The Maine Blown Up!

Inspired to serve his country, Bearss organized a volunteer company from among his friends in Peru and together, with bands playing and flags flying, they marched off to Indianapolis to offer their services to the United States.  Not a single individual was accepted for military service, however, and Bearss decided to enlist as a private.  He was refused that, as well.  His family finally appealed to a local congressman by the name of George Steele, who in turn offered Bearss an appointment at the U. S. Naval Academy.  Bearss turned this offer down: he was not going to waste another four years of his life in yet another college.

Bearss 001A few weeks later, Steele telegrammed Bearss that he had secured for him an appointment as a temporary second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.  Like many Americans back then, Bearss wasn’t sure what a Marine was; Steele advised him, “It is as close to committing suicide as you will ever get.”  After successfully passing stringent examinations at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC, Bearss was accepted for a commission in late May 1898.  With his appointment at the age of 23, he was no longer referred to by his nickname.  He simply became Mr. Bearss, Lieutenant Bearss, or Hiram (shown right, 1898). Within a year, owing to the end of the Spanish-American War, the military services began downsizing to a peace time strength; Lieutenant Bearss was ordered home and then, in February, the Marines discharged him from further service.

There were important consequences to the Spanish-American War; one of these was a decision by Congress to spend more money on an adequate wartime structure, especially since the United States had inherited the Philippine Islands —and not all was going well there.  Naval bases had to be defended and an expanded Navy meant an expanded Marine Corps.

On 2 June 1899, Bearss received his commission to first lieutenant and four days after that he reported for duty aboard the USS New York.  After several weeks of public relations stops along the eastern seaboard of the United States, in October 1899, Bearss was ordered to report to Major Littleton W. T. Waller, Commanding the 3rd Battalion of Marines being formed at the Washington Navy Yard for service in the Far East.

The voyage to the Philippine Islands was a rough one, but it was here that Bearss and Frederick Wise first met and established their life-long friendship.  Of Bearss, Wise wrote: “It was on the USS Solace that I first did duty with Hiram I. Bearss, then, like myself, a second lieutenant.  There never was another like old Hiram in the world.  Wild as you make them.  Irresponsible to an incredible degree.  Absolutely fearless.  Seldom in funds.  Always with some scheme afoot.  He never had the proper clothes.  He was forever playing practical jokes.  His energy knew no control.  He was always borrowing anything and everything from everybody he could.  Yet, he was loveable beyond words to describe.”  What Wise didn’t tell us was that Bearss was one of those drinking fellows; over time, his drinking became legendary.

bearss 002By the time Waller’s battalion arrived in the Philippines, the United States had been engaged with insurrectionists for quite some time.  The Filipino did not appreciate being under the thumb of the Spanish before 1898; they didn’t care about being under the thumb of the Americans afterwards, either.  What Bearss found upon arrival in these islands was a brutal guerrilla war.  Hiram Bearss is shown right while likely serving as a Major, U. S. Marine Corps.

Within his twenty years of service, Bearss received four of our nation’s highest awards for distinguished conduct during combat operations, including the Medal of Honor[1].  He additionally received high honors from France, Italy, and Belgium.  That he was a hard fighter there can be no doubt; he was one of the most decorated officers to serve at that time.  During World War I, Bearss briefly commanding the 5th Marine Regiment, and later served as executive officer of the 6th Marines, but most of his combat service was with Army units.  He commanded two separate battalions within the 9th US Infantry, commanded the 102nd US Infantry Regiment and 51st US Infantry Brigade.  Bearss was so effective as a combat leader that General Pershing attempted to promote him on several occasions, but since Bearss was a Marine officer, Pershing had no influence with the Marine Corps’ promotion system.

As previously mentioned, Bearss was also a hard drinker and this likely explains his difficulties not long after he returned home from France.  Bearss was assigned to command the Marine Barracks at Philadelphia.  Bearss found the barracks unacceptably lax and Bearss, a strict disciplinarian, refused to tolerate any organization that failed to maintain the high standards for Marines.  Within a short time, subordinate officers filed charges against Bearss, claiming he was drunk on duty, that he used profanity while berating his officers in front of enlisted men.

Whether true, a hearing was convened at the orders of Major General George Barnett, the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  At the time, it was well-known that Barnett did not like Bearss (in the same way he protected Ellis), and the issue suddenly became an internal political struggle.  Bearss had his highly-placed supporters, Barnett had his.

Bearss 003Still, after twenty-years of service, Colonel Hiram Bearss (shown right) suffered from the maladies attributed to almost any Marine with two or three decades of hard service, but in the case of Hiking Hiram, he’d been seriously injured from a fall from a horse, suffered injuries from the explosion of a mortar during the war, and suffered from painful feet.  The solution to this unhappy disciplinary problem was to order Bearss into medical retirement.  Colonel Bearss’ difficulties with Barnett (and others) may explain why he was never advanced to flag rank until 1936 (well after his retirement from active military service).  In any case, Colonel Bearss accepted a medical discharge in 1919.  He was killed in an automobile accident in 1938.

Two excellent accounts of Bearss can be found in two books by George B. Clark.  They are titled Hiram Iddings Bearss, U. S. Marine Corps: Biography of a World War I Hero, and His Road to Glory: the life and times of Hiking Hiram Bearss, Hoosier Marine.  Both books make excellent companions to such other works as The Devil Dogs at Belleau Wood: U. S. Marines in World War I by Dick Camp and A Marine Tells It to You, by Colonel Frederick M. Wise.

Notes:

[1] The Medal of Honor was awarded to him for service in the Philippine Islands in 1901; at the time of this action, Bearss was serving as a captain.  The medal was not awarded to him until 18 years later when Bearss was serving as a colonel.

Henry Clay Cochrane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

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

Among the Old Breed

As with many of the so-called old breed, Littleton W. T. Waller was an authoritarian officer whose initial commission as second lieutenant of Marines occurred on 24 June 1880.  These old breed Marines were of a different type from those wearing the uniform today.  In the late 1800’s, Marine officers and enlisted men lived hard, drank hard, and fought hard.  Their near-legion consumption of liquor was part of the norm, but with that said, there was no tolerance for an inebriated Marine on duty.  The Marines of Waller’s time were trained by strict disciplinarians … the old salts that accepted no excuses for less than stellar performance; they demanded results and left an indelible mark on their subordinates.  If officer candidates survived their harsh training, they became officers; if they failed, they were dismissed from the Corps.

I have described Waller’s exploits as a battalion commander in the Philippine Islands in two earlier posts (here and here); he became a controversial figure owing to two significant events: his march across Samar, and his court-martial.  Some historians have argued that even though he achieved the rank of major general, his court-martial (although acquitted) may have kept him from serving as Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Others have said that the court-martial was not a factor[1].

Waller was born in York County, Virginia.  Both sides of his family originated in England, migrating to the Americas during the colonial period.  They were wealthy, well-educated, and politically astute.  His ancestors included men with military titles, lawyers, justices, and politicians.  Some of these men served in Virginia’s House of Burgesses; one served on the Virginia delegation to consider the Declaration of Independence.

Referred to as “Tony” by his friends, Waller was regarded as bright, but he was no scholar.  He was an outdoorsman who was fond of hunting, fishing, and riding.  As with many others in his own time, Waller was intimately familiar with three works: The King James Bible, the works of Shakespeare, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  The evidence for this appears in his writing of reports from foreign shore where he incorporates phrases from each of these.  In their own memoirs, Major General Smedley D. Butler and Colonel Frederick M. Wise, described Waller as an eloquent speaker and a fascinating story-teller.

Wallers initial tours of duty were shore-based commands.  The first at the Marine Barracks in Norfolk, Virginia, and the second at the Marine Barracks, Washington, D. C.  He then embarked on his first tour at sea, assigned as executive officer under Captain Henry Clay Cochrane, commanding the Marine Detachment, USS Lancaster.  Lancaster was the flagship of the European squadron, and Cochrane was a veteran of the American Civil War (you don’t get more “old school” than this).

In 1882, Cochrane and Waller were present at the British naval bombardment of Alexandria, Egypt and participated in an amphibious landing of mixed bluejackets and Marines.  As the French had withdrawn their forces from the city, American Marines and sailors were needed to provide protection to the US Consulate, American citizens, and displaced foreign nations.  The landing force consisted two companies: one consisting of sixty-nine sailors under the command of Lieutenant Frank L. Denny, USN and 63 Marines commanded by Lieutenant Waller, USMC.  The overall landing force commander was Lieutenant Commander Charles Goodrich, USN, Captain Cochrane served as Goodrich’s executive officer.

Denny and Waller approached the city center with due caution, reaching the Square of Mehmet Ali (location of the US Consulate).  Designating this location as their headquarters, Marines and sailors began to patrol the city streets.  Subsequently, Waller and his Marines were placed under the command of Lord Charles Beresford’s British forces protecting the European quarter.  The anticipated rebel attack never materialized, however, and after ten days a four-thousand-man British force arrived to relieve the American company.  The Times of London later reported, “Lord Charles Beresford states that without the assistance of the American Marines, he would have been unable to discharge the numerous duties of suppressing fires, preventing looting, burying the dead, and clearing the streets.”[2]

As there was no wireless radio in those days, and the telegraphic cable office in Alexandria was not functioning, the Squadron Commander had approval to land the naval force, but once ashore Goodrich had been on his own. It was he who made the decision to stay with the British rather than follow in trace behind the French.  As one of only four officers in the landing force, Waller would have been present as important decisions were made.  It was an experience that stood him in good stead in later years.

During the Spanish American War, Captain Waller served aboard the battleship USS Indiana as Commanding Officer, Marine Detachment.  He was present during the battle of Santiago on 3 July 1898.  Indiana’s position in the American fleet precluded her participation in the initial chase of the Spanish Navy, but Waller’s Marines did participate in naval gunnery against the Spanish ships Pluton and Furor.  Waller’s Marines pulverized the Spanish ships.  Waller later said that the only problems he encountered during this engagement was in keeping Marines not engaged in gunnery under appropriate cover.

It wasn’t long before the Spanish Navy fell to American naval fires; it may have been one of the most lopsided engagements in naval history: every Spanish ship was destroyed and no US ship suffered more than minor damage.  Within a period of a single hour, Waller’s gunners fired five-hundred rounds from their six-inch guns.  In their hour of triumph, however, the American then performed acts of mercy.  Indiana’s commander, Captain Robley D. Evans, directed Waller to launch the ship’s whaleboats to pick up as many of the shipwrecked Spanish sailors as possible.  With sailors at the oars and Marines in the bow and stern to haul in swimmers, Waller’s detail worked throughout the day.  Here were men already weary from passing ammunition during a naval engagement now sunburned and hands swollen and cracked from salt water, saving their enemy from sure death.  The squadron commander, Admiral William T. Sampson, wrote of Waller’s service to the Secretary of the Navy: “… This rescue of prisoners, including the wounded from the burning Spanish vessels, was the occasion of some of the most daring and gallant conduct of the day.  The [Spanish] ships were burning fore and aft, their guns and reserve ammunition were exploding, and it was not known at what moment the fire would reach the main magazines.  In addition to this a heavy surf was running just inside of the Spanish ships.  But no risk deterred our officers and men until their work of humanity was completed.”

Waller later wrote of this service: “After working for hours with the wounded, we took the prisoners on board ship; there were on board my ship, two hundred and forty-three in all.  We issued clothes to the naked men, and the officers gave up their clothes and beds to the Spanish officers.  Only a few months ago I received a letter from the widow of one of the officers of Admiral Cervera’s staff, telling me of her husband’s death, and saying that it was his wish that she should thank me for all that I had done for him; and I have received many tokens and letters besides this in grateful acknowledgement of the mercy shown.”

Waller later received recognition for this service by award of the Specially Meritorious Service Medal; he is believed to be the only Marine to receive this award.

In early 1900, Major Waller was assigned at the Naval Station, Cavite, Philippines.  He was ordered to command a detachment of Marines assigned to take part in an expedition to relieve the siege of Peking, China—then Imperial China’s capital city.  The city, with its enclave of foreign legations, was besieged by a mixed force of Boxers, so called because their official group moniker was “Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” and the Chinese Imperial troops egging them on.  Waller and his Marines arrived at Taku, China on 19 June 1900, soon afterwards moving inland where they linked up with a Russian column of some 400 men.  On 21 June, the Americans and Russians set out for Tientsin, an enemy-held city.  Their route took them through areas estimated to contain between 1,500 to 2,000 hostile Chinese.  Coming under heavy enemy fire, the column was forced to withdraw with the Russians in the vanguard, and Waller faced with a desperate rearguard struggle.  Waller, leaving behind the dead, dragged along his wounded and fought off numerically superior forces to reach safety.  The Marine Detachment immediately returned to duty, however, and was attached to a British column led by Commander Christopher Craddock.  On 24 June, an international contingent consisting of Italian, German, Japanese, Russian, British, and American forces, again set off for Tientsin.

After participating in the final battle for the City of Peking on 13-14 July, Waller’s Marines took possession of the American sector and brought order out of the chaos caused by the Chinese retreat.  Waller was subsequently promoted to Brevet[3] Lieutenant Colonel and advanced two numbers on the lineal precedence list of officers.  Waller thus became one of only twenty Marines to receive the Marine Corps Brevet Medal when the decoration was created in 1921.  The Brevet Medal was replaced by the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

It was during Waller’s service in China that he began a long-running friendship with a Lieutenant by the name of Smedley D. Butler.  Butler was the only Marine officer to receive two awards of the Medal of Honor.  In 1905, Waller served as best man at Butler’s wedding.  These two Marines remained close friends for the rest of Waller’s life.

Tony Waller was promoted to Brigadier General in 1916, and advanced to the rank of Major General (temporary) in 1918.  However, having failed for selection to the post of Commandant of the Marine Corps, there was very little else Waller could do but retire.  On 22 March 1920, Waller appeared in front of the Marine Corps Retirement Board.  The board concluded that Waller was incapacitated for further service due to arterial sclerosis, that the incapacity was the result of military service, and recommended retirement in grade of Major General.  The White House approved the recommendation and ordered Waller retired effective 22 May 1920.  However, at the direction of President Woodrow Wilson, Waller was retained on active duty until 16 June 1920.  According to at least one military historian, Waller took part in more actions than any other Marine Corps officer of his period.  He lived out the remainder of his days in Philadelphia, passing away on 13 July 1926 at the age of 69-years.  General Waller is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Notes:

[1] Selection to serve the post as Commandant of the Marine Corps was highly political in the period before 1940.  Military aide to both Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft, Captain Archibald Butt, U. S. Army, indicated that the Samar incident had nothing at all to do with Waller’s non-selection to the highest post in the Corps; rather there were forces in the Senate that worked feverishly to have their own man advanced as Commandant.  Still, the anti-Imperialist press did maul Waller at every opportunity, suggesting very heavily that a man lacking concern for his fellow man didn’t deserve to represent the entire Marine Corps.  The politicians won the day.

[2] In these times, there was no wireless radio and the telegraphic cable in Alexandria was not functioning.  The US Naval Commander had obtained the approval of Washington D. C. to land the mixed company of Marines and Sailors, but once ashore Lieutenant Commander Goodrich was entirely on his own.  Goodrich made the decision to remain with the British rather than to return his men to their ship.  Waller, as one of only four officers, would have been privy to all decisions being made ashore.  As a 24-year old lieutenant, Waller learned about independence of command; it would stand him in good stead in future years.

[3] A brevet promotion entitles an officer to wear the rank insignia of the next higher grade, albeit without any increase in pay.  It the Marine Corps, a brevet promotion only came as the result of exceptionally meritorious service or gallantry during a period of combat.

 

Spanish-American War

Given the average duration of human conflicts the Spanish-American War did not last very long; it did, however, have global implications for both the United States and Spain.  The Treaty of Paris (1898) compelled Spain to relinquish its claims on Cuba, and cede its sovereignty over Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippine Islands.  It was a gain for the United States because it made the United States a predominant power in both the Caribbean and Pacific regions.

One may recall that the conflagration that erupted in 1898 between the United States and Spain was preceded by three years of fighting among Cuban revolutionaries and Spanish loyalists.  From 1895–1898, violent conflict in Cuba captured the attention of Americans because of economic and political instability in a region with close geographical proximity to the United States. Moreover, the US held a longstanding interest in removing European colonial powers from the Western Hemisphere[1].  Biased press or not, the Spanish did treat the Cuban people harshly and it was this treatment (whether accurately reported) that outraged the American people.

On April 11, 1898, President William McKinley asked Congress for authorization to end the fighting in Cuba between the rebels and Spanish forces, and to establish a “stable government” that would “maintain order” and ensure the “peace and tranquility and the security” of Cuban and U.S. citizens on the island.  A congressional resolution on April 20 acknowledged Cuban independence and demanded that Spain relinquish control of the island.  Concurrently, Congress forswore any intention on the part of the United States to annex Cuba, and authorized McKinley to use whatever military measures he deemed necessary to guarantee Cuba’s independence.

Spain rejected America’s ultimatum and immediately severed diplomatic relations with the United States.  McKinley responded by implementing a naval blockade of Cuba on April 22 and on the following day he issued a call for 125,000 military volunteers.  Spain declared war on the United States on the same day; Congress responded by voting to go to war with Spain on April 25.

Future Secretary of State John Hay described the conflict as a “splendid little war.”  The first battle was fought on May 1, in Manila Bay, Philippine Islands: Commodore George Dewey’s Asiatic Squadron defeated the Spanish navy in one fell swoop.  On June 6, U. S. Marines landed at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.  After isolating and defeating the Spanish Army garrisons in Cuba, the U.S. Navy destroyed the Spanish Caribbean squadron on July 3 as it attempted to escape the U.S. naval blockade of Santiago.

President McKinley also used his splendid war as a pretext to annex Hawaii.  In 1893, a group of Hawaii-based planters and businessmen led a coup de etat against Queen Liliuokalani and established a new government. They promptly sought annexation by the United States but President Grover Cleveland rejected their requests.  In 1898, however, President McKinley was more favorably disposed toward acquiring the islands.  Supporters of annexation argued that Hawaii was vital to the U.S. economy, that it would serve as a strategic naval base that could help protect U.S. interests in Asia, and argued that other nations were intent on taking over the islands if the United States did not.  At McKinley’s request, a joint resolution of Congress made Hawaii a U.S. territory on August 12, 1898.

I doubt that anyone in Washington could have anticipated the consequences of seizing the Philippines.  For many months after the war with Spain, American forces in the Philippines were up to their ears in native agitators.  In September 1901, insurrectionists and local townspeople massacred 48 soldiers assigned to Company C, 9th US Infantry, then on outpost duty at Balangiga.  The massacre prompted the military governor of the area to call for reinforcements.  He got them: a battalion of U. S. Marines soon arrived under the command of Major L. W. T. Waller[2].

The Marines were assigned responsibility for pacifying the entire southern end of Samar; they immediately proceeded to clear the area of all rebellious forces.  Moving up the Sohoton River, Waller and his Marines attacked and destroyed a native fort on the bluffs that had been under preparation for years.  No white troops had ever penetrated this far into the interior of the island.

In October, the military governor requested that a communication line be run across the island giving Major Waller the authority to decide the route such a communications line should follow.  (See also: He Served on SamarMajor Waller’s Court, and Sergeant Major Quick).  The battalion was divided into two groups with Waller taking 50 men and bearers of the first group to scout a route.  The party started up river from Lenang in boats but had to abandon them because of treacherous rapids.  The men continued on foot, crossing and re-crossing the river continuously.  Rations were cut in half, and as the Marines marched through the jungles and over the mountains they contracted illnesses, their clothing was torn, and their feet swollen and bleeding.  The trail was soon lost.

Major Waller decided to keep pushing on with Lieutenant Frank Halford and 13 of the most able-bodied men, leaving the less-fit men under Captain David Porter.  Porter’s orders were to follow in trace as soon as the strength of his men permitted.  A few days later, Waller’s advance party captured some rebels, and from them, learned about the direction of the old Spanish trail to Basey.  At Banglay on the Cadacan River they came upon the camp set up by Captain Dunlap.  Joining Dunlap was the remainder of Waller’s second group, arriving by sea and ordered to await Major Waller’s advance party.  Over 29 days, Major Waller’s men had marched through torrential downpours, dense jungle and raging floods.  The Marines were in such bad shape that at the time of their rescue, they wept or laughed uncontrollably; they were barefoot, cut, torn, bruised, diseased and starved.

A relief party started back immediately to find the rest of the column under Capt. Porter.  Despite his weakened condition Major Waller accompanied them.  Their search was unsuccessful because many of the former camp sites and trails were under water and the route was blocked.

In the meantime, Captain Porter had started to retrace the trail to Lanang.  Many of the men were unable to march and they were left with Lieutenant Williams as Porter and the seven who were most fit went on ahead for relief.  Facing slow starvation, Lieutenant Williams and the remaining Marines moved slowly back over the trail. The weakest men died one by one, by the wayside.  One of Williams men went insane and the native bearers attacked the party with bolo knives.  Ten Marines died before the relief party from Lanang could reach them.

The entire march across Samar covered over 190 miles; Major Waller had covered 250 miles in his return with the relief party.  The Marine battalion was relieved by Army troops in March 1902, leaving behind it a story of heroic sacrifice and hardship seldom equaled in the performance of duty.

Thus, two deadly marches in the Philippines have been burned into the memories of U. S. Marines. The Death March of Bataan took many lives and serves as a testament to Japanese cruelty during World War II; the march across Samar occurred 40 years earlier, which earned this tribute to its survivors: “Stand gentlemen; he served on Samar.”

Notes:

[1] President James Monroe proclaimed the Americas as within the United States’ sphere of influence in 1823.  It proclaimed the western hemisphere free of all attempts of European expansion.  To Europeans interested in doing just that, it was an amusing document, for there was no way the Americans could enforce its own declaration.  The Monroe Doctrine was a dead letter when it was issued and it remained so for some 80 years.  In 1898, Cuba became the focal point for a new American policy toward Latin America.  In 1901 the Platt Amendment forbade Cuba to enter into any agreement that might endanger its independence.  In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt issued his corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which asserted American interests into the internal affairs of Latin American nations.  Revisionists looking at history through 21st Century glasses would argue that this was an outrageous usurpation of national sovereignty; they would conveniently overlook the numbers of innocent people murdered by Latin American caudillo … and we are talking about tens of thousands of victims.  We might even argue that while Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary demonstrated compassion for the plight of the average Latino, Franklin Roosevelt, in issuing the so-called Good Neighbor Policy demonstrated no compassion at all.  Of course, FDR was a Democrat, so …

[2] Littleton “Tony” Waller Tazewell Waller was a career Marine Corps officer who served in the Spanish-American War, in the Caribbean, and in Asia.  He was appointed a second lieutenant on 24 June 1880.  I will write more about this officer in subsequent posts.

Cuba 1898

The Cuban people rebelled against Spain in 1895, and it was not long after the initial rebellion when two insurgents came to the fore, (Jose Marti and Maximo Gomez); in three years, these two geniuses had only secured two Cuban provinces.  The suggestion here is that the revolution wasn’t going very well.

In January 1898, the United States dispatched the USS Maine from Key West, Florida to Havana to protect US interests during the Cuban War of Independence.  Maine was a coal fired ship, which means that explosive coal dust was present on every deck of the ship, including the holds containing the ship’s armament, which contained more than five tons of powder charges for the ship’s six and ten-inch guns.  An explosion originated from these powder holds, obliterating the forward one-third of the ship while at anchor in Havana Bay.  At the time of the explosion, most of the crew were sleeping in the forward part of the ship; 260 men lost their lives; six more later died from their injuries.  Altogether, only 89 sailors survived the explosion, 18 of whom were officers who were quartered aft.  An initial inquiry determined that the ship had been sunk by a naval mine.  Whilst likely an error, the determination propelled the United States into conflict with Spain —aided by publishing magnates William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer who gave the sinking intense press coverage.  Both men exaggerated and distorted information about the sinking of the Maine, including blatant fabrications, and this in turn resulted in Americans demanding that the US government do something about this affront to American sovereignty.  The sinking of the Maine may not have resulted in an immediate declaration of war with Spain, but journalistic dishonesty created an atmosphere in America that made it impossible for the US government to achieve a peaceful solution.

In April 1898, the United States declared war on Spain, siding with Cuban insurgents.  Soon afterwards the US Navy blockaded Havana harbor.  By the end of May, the Spanish fleet was bottled up in Santiago Bay, 40 miles west of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  In the United States, the US Army began to organize an expeditionary force for action in Cuba.  The first successful foray against Spain, however, occurred in early June as the US Navy cut communications from Guantanamo Bay to the outside world.

Despite the insurgency’s offensive positions near Guantanamo Bay, Spanish regulars held Guantanamo City, the port of Caimanera and the railroad that connected the two cities.  The Spanish garrison consisted of 5,000 men under the command of General Felix Paraja.  A Spanish blockhouse stood on the hill overlooking Fisherman’s Point near the entrance to Guantanamo Bay and a fort stood guard over Cayo del Toro overlooking a channel from the outer bay.  The Spanish gunship Sandoval commanded the inner bay, while a string of blockhouses defended the railroad line from Guantanamo City, fourteen miles inland.

The decision to establish a base at Guantanamo was handed to the First Battalion of U. S. Marines, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Huntington commanding, which consisted of six companies of 650 Marines (four companies of infantry, one of artillery, and one headquarters company).  Arriving at Santiago on the converted transport Panther, Huntington’s plan for an assault was soon approved by the Naval Landing Force Commander: The Marines would assault and occupy a place designated as Camp McCalla (after Commander McCalla, Landing Officer of the Naval Fleet) —a flat ridge atop the hill overlooking Fisherman’s Point.  In addition to the artillery company, Huntington’s battalion was armed with the Model 1895 Browning machinegun and the Lee (6mm) (.23 caliber) Naval Rifle, a magazine-fed rapid-fire rifle using high velocity smokeless power cartridges.

The Marines landed unopposed on 6 June 1898 with five companies.  Its artillery contingent was left aboard to off-load the ship (the ship’s commander had refused to allow ship’s company to perform unloading duties).  Once ashore, the Marines burned the existing crude huts along with what remained of the blockhouse along the shore.  This action was designed to preclude the possibility of Marines incurring “yellow fever,” as the Spanish garrison had abandoned their possessions with some rapidity, leaving behind soiled clothing, weapons, cash money, and jewelry.  Not long after landing, the Marines raised the American flag at Camp McCalla —the first ever to do so on Cuban Soil.

Company C occupied a hill some distance from the main position; it was not a very good position because the main body at Camp McCalla could not provide fire support to the Marines of Company C.  Two forward outposts were established, one at a road junction located several hundred yards ahead of the camp known as the “Crossroads”, and one called “The Bridge” placed across a road a mile and a half from the American camp where Spanish forces were expected to bring up artillery from Caimanera.  With the sea at their backs, and lacking mutual support between outposts, Marines had a less-than-ideal tactical situation.  Commander McCalla criticized Huntington in the placement of his Marines because the outposts were too far forward and could not be seen or supported in the dense undergrowth.  Three Marine companies stacked arms and returned to the ship to help with unloading operations.  Then, shortly after sundown, the Marines had their first meal of coffee and hardtack[1].  The enemy revealed its presence soon afterwards; voices were heard and faint lights were seen in the thicket — but no attack came that night.  We now know that Spanish forces defending the area were desperately short of food; they delayed attacking the Marines until the Marines had completed unloading their stores with hopes of seizing American supplies.

By daybreak, the Marines had completed unloading their stores and equipment, although the artillery pieces and ammunition were left aboard ship. The remaining companies of the battalion came ashore; Company C was withdrawn from its isolated hill outpost. The only sound in the thickets was the cooing of doves, a sound Marines soon learned was a favorite signal used by Spanish loyalist guerrilla forces.

Colonel Huntington was joined in the afternoon by Cuban Army Colonel Laborde, who for several days had been with Commander McCalla serving as pilot on USS Marblehead, and had  now been sent ashore to assist the Marines and provide intelligence about the enemy.  Laborde informed Huntington that the headquarters of the major Spanish force in the area was located at the “Well of Cuzco”, two miles southeast of Fisherman’s Point; this well was the only source of fresh water in the area.  The Spanish force of about 500 soldiers and guerrillas, joined by the troops driven from the blockhouse on the bay, constituted the gravest threat to the U.S. base of operations.  Laborde opined that the seizure of Cuzco Well (and destroying it) would push Spanish forces into retreat all the way to Ciudad Guantánamo (Guantánamo City).

Enemy fire suddenly erupted from the thicket in front of the Marine position at 0500 hours.  Colonel Huntington led his Marines forward, but the assault was impeded by the thorny tangle of trees, underbrush, and cactus; Huntington then realized that the occupation of Camp McCalla was tactically unsound even with naval gunfire support.  The Spanish guerillas, employing rapid-fire Mauser rifles, advanced towards Camp McCalla.  After heavy fighting, the Spanish withdrew pursued by the Marines, who continued their assault through the listening post positions occupied by Privates William Dumphy and James McColgan.  Dumphy and McColgan’s bodies were discovered severally shot and desecrated by Spanish guerillas (Source: Journal of Frank Keeler, 1898).

Colonel Huntington’s executive officer (second in command) was Major Henry Clay Cochrane.  He later described the Spanish attack as the “100 hours of fighting”.  At Camp McCalla, the Marines dug in and began disciplined fire at the concealed Spaniards; they were aided by three 3-inch field pieces and two additional 6mm Colt–Browning machineguns which had been landed from USS Texas.  Gunfire from the USS Marblehead passed overhead of the Marines and impacted in nearby hills.  Wearing large palm leaves tied to their uniforms for camouflage, and firing smokeless powder cartridges, Spanish forces were difficult to locate as they moved through the dense undergrowth.

A desperate firefight began on the evening of 12 June when enemy forces came within fifty yards of the Marine positions at Camp McCalla.  Marines responded with rifle and artillery fire.  The Marine’s intense fire may have deterred the Spanish from attempting to overrun the camp, but Acting Assistant Surgeon John Blair Gibbs and Sergeant Charles H. Smith were both killed in the exchange of gunfire.  Later, Marines found several blood trails indicating significant Spanish losses, but discovered no bodies, because the guerrillas removed their wounded and dead to conceal their casualty figures.

The next day, sixty Cubans under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Enrique Tomas reinforced the First Battalion; the Cubans had been equipped with rifles and white-duck sailor uniforms by Commander McCalla from the USS Marblehead.  Familiar with guerrilla tactics, the Cubans deployed in pairs in front of the camp, burning the brush and undergrowth as they advanced denying cover and concealment to the enemy.  At dusk, as the USS Marblehead (having provided shore bombardment on several occasions) steamed down the coast and shelled the well at Cuzco; the Spanish resumed their attack: two more Marines —acting Sergeant Major Henry Good and Private Goode Taurman— were killed.

By nightfall on 13 June 1898 the Marines were exhausted. They had not slept nor rested for 100 hours. Relief or reinforcement was impossible because U.S. Army troops had yet to leave the United States.  The Marines continued fighting for two additional days.

Colonel Tomas of the Cuban rebel forces advised Colonel Huntington to attack the Spanish garrison at Cuzco Well.  The Spanish garrison consisted of four companies of Spanish infantry and two companies of loyalist guerrilla forces totaling approximately 500 men.  By denying fresh water to the Spanish forces, the Marines hoped to push the Spaniards from the area.  Commander McCalla approved Huntington’s plan and the attack was scheduled for 0800 the next day.

Companies C and D (about 160 men) (serving under Captain George F. Elliott (a future Commandant of the Marine Corps)) and sixty Cubans under Colonel Tomas approached Cuzco along the cliffs by the sea.  A smaller Marine force advanced through an inland valley holding a picket line for the main force, with men in reserve to assist if necessary. The USS Dolphin provided naval gunfire support from the sea.

The day was already hot when the combined American—Cuban force began its march on 14 June.  Colonel Laborde guided the main force; a Cuban scout guided a smaller force led by 2nd Lt. Magill. The march was slowed by rough terrain, vicious undergrowth, and increasing heat.

The Spaniards spotted the Cuban rebels, who were marching ahead of the Marine companies; a race for the crest of the hill ensued.  The Marines and Cuban rebels reached the summit first, albeit under heavy fire from the Spanish and loyalist guerrillas. The smaller Marine force approached on-the-double, using their Lee Rifles to pour a deadly crossfire on to the enemy flank.  Three of the four Browning machineguns accompanying the Marines were used by Company C in the fighting.  According to Pvt. John Clifford of Company D, the machineguns were instrumental in supporting the Marine assault.[2]

The light weight of the Marines’ new Lee cartridge proved to be of considerable benefit, allowing each Marine and machinegun crew to transport large amounts of ammunition over the mountainous, jungled terrain.  Midway through the battle, Cuban rebel forces ran out of 6mm cartridges and were resupplied with an additional six clips (30 cartridges) from the belts of individual Marines, yet none of the Marines ran short of ammunition despite firing some sixty shots apiece in the battle —a testament to the Marine’s fire discipline and the accuracy of Marine Corps rifle marksmanship training.

During this portion of the fighting, Captain Elliott had requested that Dolphin provide fire support to the Marines by shelling the Spanish blockhouse and nearby positions with her naval guns. Through a miscommunication of signals, however, the gunboat unknowingly began dropping shells in the direct path of a small force of fifty Marines and ten Cuban rebels led by 2nd Lt. Magill, who at the time was attempting to flank the Spanish position and potentially cut off any avenue of retreat.  Affixing his handkerchief to a long stick and braving the Spanish fire, Sergeant John H. Quick took up an exposed position on the ridge to immediately wigwag a signal flag to Dolphin to adjust her gunfire.  War Correspondent Stephen Crane, who had accompanied the Marines, later described the scene in his war tale “Marines Signaling Under Fire at Guantanamo”:

“Sergeant Quick arose, and announced that he was a signalman. He produced from somewhere a blue polka-dot neckerchief as large as a quilt. He tied it on a long, crooked stick. Then he went to the top of the ridge, and turning his back to the Spanish fire, began to signal to the Dolphin.  Again we gave a man sole possession of a particular part of the ridge.  We didn’t want it.  He could have it and welcome.  If the young sergeant had had the smallpox, the cholera, and the yellow fever, we could not have slid out with more celerity.

“As men have said often, it seemed as if there was in this war a God of Battles who held His mighty hand before the Americans. As I looked at Sergeant Quick wig-wagging there against the sky, I would not have given a tin tobacco-tag for his life. Escape for him seemed impossible. It seemed absurd to hope that he would not be hit; I only hoped that he would be hit just a little, in the arm, the shoulder, or the leg.

“I watched his face, and it was as grave and serene as that of a man writing in his own library.  He was the very embodiment of tranquility in occupation. He stood there amid the animal-like babble of the Cubans, the crack of rifles, and the whistling snarl of the bullets, and wig-wagged whatever he had to wig-wag without heeding anything but his business. There was not a single trace of nervousness or haste.

“To say the least, a fight at close range is absorbing as a spectacle. No man wants to take his eyes from it until that time comes when he makes up his mind to run away. To deliberately stand up and turn your back to a battle is in itself hard work. To deliberately stand up and turn your back to a battle and hear immediate evidences of the boundless enthusiasm with which a large company of the enemy shoot at you from an adjacent thicket is, to my mind at least, a very great feat. One need not dwell upon the detail of keeping the mind carefully upon a slow spelling of an important code message.

“I saw Quick betray only one sign of emotion. As he swung his clumsy flag to and fro, an end of it once caught on a cactus pillar, and he looked sharply over his shoulder to see what had it. He gave the flag an impatient jerk. He looked annoyed.”

When Sergeant Quick finished this message, the ship answered.  Quick then picked up his Lee rifle and resumed his place on the firing line. For his gallant and selfless conduct during this action, Quick would later receive the Medal of Honor.

Dolphin shifted her fire onto the enemy camp and blockhouse, by 1400.  The Spanish had broken and fled the blockhouse.  Unfortunately, 2ndLt Magill’s men were delayed sufficiently to prevent them from cutting off a Spanish retreat, though his men did capture the Spanish signaling station and its heliograph[3] equipment.

As Spanish forces withdrew through a gully on the other side of the valley, Marines opened fire at 1,200 yards, firing volley after volley with good effect.  The Spanish were unable to accurately return fire, allowing Company B Marines and the Cuban rebels to close the distance, firing as they advanced.  The Spanish first attempted to concentrate their fires on the Cubans and managed to kill two of them, but were forced back by Marine rifle fire once again, at which point the remaining enemy, which up to that point had been withdrawing in good order, broke and scattered.

Within an hour the enemy had abandoned the battlefield and all hostile fire had ceased.  Most of the Spanish had escaped, but a lieutenant and seventeen enlisted men were captured.  According to these sources, the Spanish suffered 60 killed, 130 wounded.  They left behind 30 modern 7mm Mauser rifles and ammunition.  Two Marines and two Cuban rebels had been wounded; two Cubans were killed, whom the Marines buried where they fell.  The most serious casualties suffered by the Marines were from heat exhaustion, which disabled one officer and twenty-two enlisted men.  USS Dolphin took these men aboard after the fighting for transportation back to Camp McCalla.

The result of the battle was that the Spanish headquarters building (blockhouse) was burned, and the freshwater well at Cuzco was destroyed, thus ending its immediate usefulness —even to the Marines, whose officers would not let them drink from it prior to its destruction.  The officers could not be certain whether the Spanish had tainted the well before its capture.  After two hours, water was brought up from the USS Dolphin.

Spanish forces retreated in small groups to Guantánamo via Cayo del Toro and Caimanera.  Apparently expecting U.S. forces to follow up the victory, they fortified the small settlement at Dos Caminos and added several blockhouses to the number already erected along the railroad line.  The Spanish soldiers were apparently impressed by Marine firepower; upon arrival at Ciudad Guantánamo (Guantánamo City), the surviving members of the Cuzco Well garrison informed General Pareja that they had been attacked by 10,000 Americans.

Camp McCalla saw no further attacks by Spanish or guerilla forces, and was disestablished on August 5, 1898.  The threat posed by U. S. Naval forces and a battalion of US Marines, plus the stranglehold on land communications imposed by more than 1,000 Cuban insurgents successfully checked a Spanish army of 7,000 men.  The Marines, having completed their assigned mission, embarked aboard USS Resolute and sailed for home, arriving at Portsmouth on the evening of 24 August 1898.  The naval campaign continued along with the employment of US Army regular and irregular forces.  A peace was signed on 12 August 1898 and a new naval base was created at Guantanamo Bay, which continues to serve the interests of the United States today.

Notes:

[1] Hardtack (or hard tack) is a simple type of biscuit or cracker, made from flour, water, and sometimes salt. Inexpensive and long-lasting, it was and is used for sustenance in the absence of perishable foods, commonly during long sea voyages, land migrations, and military campaigns.

[2] This was the first known tactical use of machinegun fire for mobile fire support in offensive combat.

[3] A heliograph is a signaling device by which sunlight is reflected in flashes from a moveable mirror.