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  No sooner had his commission come through, the Commandant of the Marine Corps rescinded it.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).


[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.


[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.”


[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.


[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.