The Perdicaris Incident

Introduction

Admiral Mahan

Few Americans stand out as much as Alfred Thayer Mahan as one of the foremost thinkers on naval warfare and maritime strategy.  Some even say that Mahan was THE leading thinker on sea power and the conduct of war at sea.  Admiral Mahan was respected as a scholar in his own time, served as President of the American Historical Association, and is remembered as the author of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.  Mahan’s studies examine the role of navies in determining the outcome of wars fought by the great European powers during the period between the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries and remain valuable for their insight into sea power and strategy.

Admiral Mahan was also a student of international relations and attempted to apply the study of history toward an understanding of foreign policy and strategic problems of his day.  For a quarter of a century, he was a visible scholar and was sought by news outlets and public figures for his insight and advice.  Theodore Roosevelt was his friend, Franklin Roosevelt was a student, and Woodrow Wilson sought to silence him.  In President Wilson’s opinion, no good could come from military or naval officers who could think for themselves.

Mahan was, himself, a student of Thucydides — placing a high value on understanding the strategies pursued by the ancient Greeks, but he was dubious about the ability of states to promote cooperation by employing international law or the organization and political activity of peace societies because arbitration agreements among states, or the establishment of norms for conduct in the international arena were likely to work only so long as the issues at stake were limited in importance.  Once a great power’s vital interests were threatened, Mahan believed that international agreements to promote cooperation would give way to armed forces searching for security.  Mahan had no faith in the ramblings of liberal globalists who thought that agreements between nations would ensure peaceful relations — and as it turned out, Mahan was right.  In Mahan’s view, the best way to prevent war was for a country to be so well-armed that potential adversaries would be deterred from risking a conflict.

Paying very close attention to Mahan was a young politician with so much personal energy that he made others nervous.  It is fair to say that Theodore Roosevelt was an admirer of Admiral Mahan, but it would be a mistake to argue that Roosevelt owed Mahan for all his brilliant pragmatism.  Theodore Roosevelt was no shrinking violet in the study of history — and one wonders how much influence Roosevelt may have had on Mahan.  In 1879, while still an undergraduate at Harvard, Theodore Roosevelt began his study of the War of 1812, which became a prodigious effort.  In his research, what may have struck Roosevelt was that the American Navy had been unable to gain command of the sea despite its successes.  This revelation may have driven him toward a keen interest in what Mahan had to say about sea power.

A few years later, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt participated in the opening of the Minnesota State Fair in Minneapolis, where he was asked to deliver a speech.  He called it his “National Duties” speech.  Historians suspect that few people were paying much attention to Roosevelt when, toward the middle of his talk, he said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick — and you will go far.” Roosevelt borrowed this phrase from an African proverb. But in short order, Roosevelt began to address questions of international relations in the context of “big stick” foreign policy. Nine days later, Theodore Roosevelt would become President of the United States, and while assuring McKinley’s cabinet that he intended to continue their president’s policies, Roosevelt was an ardent imperialist who made the McKinley cabinet a nervous wreck.

Background

In 1826, a young man from Greece arrived in the United States for studies.  He was the son of an influential medical doctor and politician named Anthony Perdicaris. Anthony’s father, Licinius, was a physician to the Ottoman Sultan and later named a Count of the Republic of Venice for his services.  The Republic of Venice later beheaded Licinius for essentially the same reasons.

In 1822, during the Greek War of Independence, Ottoman forces attacked the city of Naousa and began killing all males and enslaving all Greek women and children.  Anthony gathered up his family and fled into the mountains.  Gregory was around twelve years old at the time.  Within a short time, Gregory had learned that his two brothers-in-law had been killed and that his mother and four sisters were taken captive and sold into slavery.  After his separation from his father, Gregory made his way to Jerusalem, where he met and befriended Pliny Fisk, an American missionary who helped arrange his passage to the United States.

Gregory was no slouch.  He learned English well enough to attend studies at Washington College (now Trinity) in Connecticut and graduate with a bachelor’s and master’s degree.  He later taught Greek and wrote several influential essays about the plight of the Greeks within the Ottoman domain.  In time, Gregory Perdicaris would become a naturalized American, and he would marry a young woman named Margaret Hanford, the granddaughter of William DeWitt, sister-in-law to Governor David Williams.  Hanford, although an orphan, came from a prominent South Carolina family.

Gregory returned to Greece in 1837 to serve as U.S. Ambassador.  When he returned to the United States in 1845, he resumed his life as an academic and a lecturer.  Politically associated with the Democratic Party, Gregory Perdicaris became an early investor in the Trenton Light Company and later served as one of its directors.  By 1852, he was also the Trenton Mutual Life Insurance Company president, with substantial investments in utility companies in Charleston, South Carolina.  In 1858, Gregory sent his son, Ion, to London, England, to study art.

Meanwhile, Margaret’s nephew, Henry McIver, began to demand that Ion be returned to South Carolina where he could participate in the Civil War.  Gregory had no intention of recalling his son from Europe.  On this basis, McIver sequestered the Perdicaris investments in South Carolina, which in 2020 value amounted to just over a million dollars.  In 1867, Gregory Perdicaris and several prominent Americans established a charitable fund for Greek refugees.  One of these investors was Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., father of the man who would become president.

Ion Hanford Perdicaris was born in Athens in 1840, grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, but fled to England at his father’s insistence to avoid participating in the American Civil War.  This prompted Henry McIver (a signer of the Ordinance of Succession) to confiscate the Perdicaris fortune, of which 1300 shares belonged to Ion.  To prevent the sequestration, Ion renounced his American citizenship (which was not permitted until 1868).  The issue of sequestration of the family’s wealth eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1877.

Still a U.S. citizen, Ion traveled back and forth to London as a journalist for The Galaxy.  He was young, unattached, and somewhat of a playboy.  In 1870, he began attending supernatural rituals with Cromwell F. Varley (an electrical engineer) and his wife, Ellen.  Cromwell’s profession required a good bit of travel back and forth between the United States and the United Kingdom — and because he and Ellen had four children, it was not practical that his wife should accompany him on his trips.  During these business trips, Ion Perdicaris and Ellen Varley began having supernatural seances of their own.  When Cromwell discovered the infidelity, he promptly divorced Ellen.  Ion, striving either to do the right thing or avoid scandal, promptly married her (1873), and assumed responsibility for raising the children.

Ion H. Perdicaris

In the late 1870s, Ion Perdicaris purchased a substantial home and estate in Tangier, where he collected exotic animals, dabbled in the arts, and maintained ties to influential people in the United States.  Ion and Ellen moved (with her children — two boys and two girls) to Tangier in 1882.  Ellen Perdicaris (and her children) retained their British nationality.  In Tangier, Ion became active in the fight for the rights of the Moors, led several civic commissions, and, as a de facto spokesman for the foreign community, argued for recognition of Tangier as a free port city.  Ion retained business interests in England and the United States throughout this period with frequent visits to both countries.

In 1886, after Perdicaris strenuously objected to the treatment offered to a native Moroccan by the American Minister in Tangier, a man who Consul General Felix Matthews accused of rape, the Moroccan government arrested Perdicaris and fined him for interfering in a legal matter.  Subsequently, Perdicaris filed charges against Matthews, and the Consul was removed from his post and ordered back to the United States.

In May 1904, despite his reasonable efforts on behalf of the Moroccan people, Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni (also, Raissoulli) kidnapped and held for ransom Ion Perdicaris and his step-son, Cromwell Varley, Jr.  A Hollywood film about the abduction was released in 1975 titled The Wind and the Lion starring Sean Connery, Brian Keith, Candace Bergen, and Steve Kanaly.  The film, while entertaining, completely misrepresents what transpired during the so-called Perdicaris Affair.

The Raissoulli

 Ahmed al-Raissoulli was the leader of three Moroccan tribes near Tangier.  In 1903, the Moroccan government arrested and jailed five of Raisuli’s men, no doubt charging them with brigandry — because that’s what they were.  That same year, Raisuli learned about the Stone Affair, where Bulgarian revolutionaries kidnapped an American Missionary and held her for ransom.  A quick study, Raisuli promptly kidnapped a newspaper correspondent named Walter Harris and held him for ransom.  This worked out so well for Raisuli that he then targeted Ion Perdicaris, assuming that the wealthier American would net a larger ransom.

The Incident

Ion, his wife, and stepson Cromwell Varley, Jr., relocated from their townhome in Tangier to their summer estate, Aidonia, on 16 May 1904.  Late in the afternoon of 18 May, Raisuli and a band of ruffians abducted Perdicaris and his stepson from Aidonia.  The number of ruffians is unknown, but estimates range from nine to 150.  Raisuli’s men cut telephone wires and assaulted several of Ion’s servants, leaving Ellen unmolested at the house.  She later contacted authorities, including the U.S. and British Consul and Moroccan officials.

American Consul Samuel Gummeré notified the U.S. State Department: 

Mr. Perdicaris, the most prominent American citizen here, and his stepson Mr. Varley, a British subject, were carried off last night from their country house, three miles from Tangier, by a numerous band of natives headed by Raisuly. . I earnestly request that a man-of-war be sent at once. . . the situation most serious.

Raisuli carried Perdicaris by horseback through the Rif Mountains.  Raisuli demanded $55,000 (later $70,000), the removal of all government troops from the region, a promise to end all harassment of the Riffian people, and the removal and arrest of the Pasha of Tangier (then part of the Ottoman infrastructure) and several other government officials.  He also demanded that the United States and Great Britain “guarantee” these demands would be met.

When the State Department received Gummeré’s communiqué, the Secretary of State, John Hay, was out of town. When notified of the incident, President Theodore Roosevelt resolved that the United States would not pay the ransom.  The mantra that evolved was “Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead.” Under-Secretary Francis Loomis dealt with the crisis by diverting seven of sixteen U.S. Navy ships from the Mediterranean to the port of Tangier. Admiral F. E. Chadwick was ordered to send a ship from the South Atlantic to Tangier.  Simultaneously, the British dispatched a Royal Navy vessel from Gibraltar.

Al-Raisuli

On 21 May, the Sultan’s representatives were sent to begin negotiations with the Raisuli.  Two days later, negotiations were in the tank.  On 29 May, Raisuli threatened to kill his prisoners if his demands were not met within the next two days.  Raisuli’s threats revealed internal tensions: the foreign minister of Morocco allied himself with Raisuli’s enemies.  The Sharif of Ouazzane was credited with progress in the negotiations.  The Sultan sent a messenger to Raisuli, but upon the messenger’s arrival, Raisuli had his throat cut.  (Pictured right, Ahmed al-Raissoulli).

The Navy Department ordered Admiral T. F. Jewell to send three additional ships on that same day.  The armored cruisers USS Brooklyn and USS Atlanta reached Tangier on 30 May, and Admiral Chadwick conferred with the Sultan’s representative.  Two additional gunboats arrived on the following day.  France assured the United States that they would do all they could to rescue the prisoners.  On 1 June, Raisuli increased his ransom demand to $70,000.00.

Admiral Jewell arrived with USS Olympia, USS Baltimore, and USS Cleveland a few hours later.  With ships at anchor, Jewell appointed Major John Twiggs Myers to overall command of the ship’s Marine Detachments.  Washington ordered Jewell to keep a leash on the Marines until he was specifically authorized to employ them against Raisuli.  Roosevelt did not want to risk the possibility of Raisuli executing his prisoners.  The only Marines sent ashore was a team of four (4) men carrying sidearms, ordered to protect the U.S. Consulate and Mrs. Perdicaris.  On 8 June, two additional Marines were dispatched to protect the Belgian legation.

The State Department intended that if Morocco did not meet the United States’ demands, American Marines would seize Morocco’s custom houses, which supplied much of the country’s revenue.  Secretary Hay wanted the Sultan to persuade Raisuli to release Perdicaris; if not, or if Perdicaris or his stepson was harmed, the Marines would enter the fray.

On 30 May, Secretary John Hay learned that there was a question about Perdicaris’ citizenship.  Hay was given to understand that Perdicaris was a Greek.  President Roosevelt’s resolve weakened, but he decided to stay the course and attempted to get Britain and France to join the U.S. in a combined military operation.  Neither country was interested because they worked with the Sultan behind the scenes, urging him to accept Raisuli’s terms.  Tensions rose substantially on 2 June when an Italian warship dropped anchor in Tangiers harbor.

The international aspects of the Perdicaris Affair increased on 6 June two when two Spanish warships dropped anchor in Tangier.  Spain’s concern was that the U.S. would attempt to force Tangier into giving the American Navy portage rights.  HMS Prince of Wales arrived two days later.

On 8 June, the Sultan granted Raisuli’s demands by appointing Herid el Barrada as the governor of Tangier.  The appointment angered tribesmen, who raided the home of an Englishman.  Negotiations dragged on as the Sultan removed his troops from Raisuli’s province on the following day.  Tribesmen were still not happy.  On 14 June, an attempt was made to kidnap the Italian Consul.  On 15 June, Raisuli increased his demands to control six (rather than two) Moroccan political districts.  Four days later, the Sultan accepted Raisuli’s demands, and 21 June was the date agreed for the release of Perdicaris and his stepson.

On 20 June, a hitch in negotiations occurred when a man named Zelai, governor of an inland tribe, refused to act as an intermediary.  The ransom money was deposited on 21 June.  On 22 June, Raisuli demanded that the Sultan place another district under his authority.  Although a settlement had already been reached, a cable from Samuel Gummeré accused the Sultan of holding up negotiations.  At the Republican National Convention, Secretary Hay stated, “We want Perdicaris alive, or Raisuli Dead.” There was no doubt that Roosevelt would get the Republican nomination, but Hay’s declaration electrified the convention.  Raisuli released Ion Perdicaris on 24 June.

Afterward, Perdicaris and his family moved to Turnbridge Wells, England  Raisuni used the money he gained from ransoming Perdicaris to build his palace, known as the “House of Tears.”

It was an interesting incident in history.  But the movie was better.

Film Clip: The Wind and the Lion

Handsome Jack of the Marines

Myers John Twiggs 001John Twiggs Myers (29 January 1871—17 April 1952) was the son of Colonel Abraham C. Myers, for whom Fort Myers, Florida is named, the grandson of Major General David E. Twiggs, and the great-grandson of General John Twiggs, a hero of the American Revolutionary War.  Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, Handsome Jack graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1892 and received an appointment as Assistant Engineer two years later. In March 1895, the Marine Corps offered Jack Myers a commission as a second lieutenant.

Despite the fact that few people know of John Twiggs Myers, Hollywood film producers have portrayed this colorful Marine officer in two popular films that were loosely based on his exploits as a “tall, roguishly handsome, global soldier of the sea.”  The first film was titled 55 Days at Peking, starring Charlton Heston in the role of Myers, a chap named Major Matt Lewis commanding American Marines during the Boxer Rebellion. In the second film, The Wind and the Lion, actor Steve Kanaly played the role of Captain Jerome.  In the actual event, Jerome was John Twiggs Myers.

After completing his studies at the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the Marine Corps ordered Jack Myers to active duty.  As Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment, USS Charleston, Myers participated in the capture of Guam from its Spanish garrison, and then later sailed to the Philippine Islands, where he was transferred to USS Baltimore.

During the Philippine-American War, Myers led several amphibious landings against Filipino insurgents, notably at the Battle of Olongapo and the Battle of Zapote River.  His courage under fire in both engagements earned him recognition as an exceptional officer.  The Marine Corps promoted Myers to captain toward the end of 1899.

In May 1900, Captain Myers accompanied the USS Newark to China.  Upon arrival, his navy commanding officer ordered Myers ashore to command a detachment of 48 Marines (including then Private Dan Daly) and 3 sailors.  Myers’ assignment in Peking was to protect the American Legation.  Because of his reputation for intrepidity under fire, the most vulnerable section of Legation’s defense, the so-called Tartar Wall, became Myers’s responsibility.

The Tartar Wall rose to a height of 45 feet with a bulwark of around forty feet in width that overlooked the foreign legation.  Should this edifice fall into Chinese hands, the entire foreign legation would be exposed to the Boxer’s long rifle fires. Each day, Chinese Boxers erected barricades, inching ever closer to the German position (on the eastern wall), and the American position (on the western approach).

Inexplicably, the Germans abandoned their position (and their American counterparts), leaving the Marines to defend the entire section.  At 2 a.m. on the night of 3 July 1900, Captain Myers, supported by 26 British Marines and 15 Russians, led an assault against the Chinese barricade, killing 20 Chinese and expelling the rest of them from the Tartar Wall.  During this engagement, Myers received a serious spear wound to his leg.  As a result of his tenacity under extremely dire conditions, the Marine Corps advanced Myers to the rank of Major and later awarded him the Brevet Medal (See notes), which in 1900 was the equivalent of the Medal of Honor for officers.  At that time, Marine officers were ineligible to receive the Medal of Honor.

Brevet Medal 001While recovering from his wounds, Myers served as Provost Marshal on American Samoa.  He was thereafter assigned to command the Marine Barracks at Bremerton, Washington.

In 1904, Myers commanded the Marine Detachment, USS Brooklyn, sent to Tangiers, Morocco to address the Perdicaris Incident.  Afterward, Major Myers completed the Naval War College, commanded the NCO School at Marine Barracks, Washington, D. C., and later commanded the Barracks for several months.  In August 1906, Major Meyers assumed command of the 1st Marine Regiment in the Philippines.  One year later, the Marine Corps ordered Myers to serve aboard USS West Virginia as Fleet Marine Officer of the Asiatic Fleet.  In 1911, Meyers completed the U. S. Army Field Officer’s School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and after graduating from the Army War College in 1912, Myers assumed command of a battalion with the Second Provisional Brigade at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  A year later he served in command of the Marine Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 1916, then Lieutenant Colonel Meyers commanded the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines until assigned as Fleet Marine Officer, U.S. Atlantic Fleet where he served until August 1918.  He then assumed command of the Marine Barracks at Parris Island, South Carolina through November 1918.

In 1921, the Marine Corps appointed Colonel Myers to serve as Inspector General of the Department of the Pacific — serving in that position for three years.  In 1925, Myers assumed command of the 1st Marine Brigade in Haiti.  Following his service as Commanding General, Department of the Pacific in 1935, with 46 years of adventurous service, Major General Myers retired from active service.  In recognition of his distinguished service in 1942, the Marine Corps advanced Jack Myers to the grade of lieutenant general on the retired list.

John Twiggs Myers passed away at the age of 81 at his home in Coconut Grove, Florida on 17 April 1952. He was the last living recipient of the Brevet Medal.

____________

Notes

1. Myers was one of only 20 Marine Corps officers to receive this medal.

Marine Corps Artillery — Part 2

The Interwar Years and World War II

In between wars

LtCol E. H. Ellis USMC

In seeking to reduce military expenditures between 1921 and 1941, the U.S. government demobilized (most) of its armed forces.  Although somewhat reduced in size following the First World War, the Marine Corps served as an intervention force during the so-called Banana Wars.  While roundly criticized by anti-Imperialists, the Banana Wars nevertheless prepared Marines for the advent of World War II.  Had it not been for those interventions, there would have been no “seasoned” Marine Corps combat leaders in 1941.  Moreover, had it not been for the efforts of Colonel Earl Hancock “Pete” Ellis, author of a thesis written at the Navy War College concerning advanced naval bases (1910) and later, the author of Operation Plan 712: Advanced Base Force: Operations in Micronesia, there would have been no amphibious warfare doctrine in 1941, which was critical to the defense of American interests in the Pacific leading up to World War II.[1]

On 7 December 1933, the Secretary of the Navy established the Fleet Marine Force (FMF).  Its purpose was to modernize the concept of amphibious warfare — initially published and implemented as the Tentative Landing Operations Manual, 1935.  This manual was a doctrinal publication setting forth the theory of landing force operations, organization, and practice.  The Landing Operations Manual prescribed new combat organizations and spurred the development of state-of-the-art amphibious landing craft and ship-to-shore tractors.  The document also addressed aerial and naval support during amphibious landings.  To test these new ideas, the Secretary of the Navy directed a series of Fleet Landing Exercises (FLEX).  FLEXs were conducted in the Caribbean, along the California coast, and in the Hawaiian Islands.  All FLEX exercises were similar to, or mirror images of exercises undertaken by Colonel Ellis in 1914.[2]

The Marine Corps continued this work throughout the 1930s by identifying strategic goals for the employment of FMF units, along with training objectives for all FMF-type units: infantry, artillery, aviation, and logistics.  Oddly, during this period, Major General Commandant Ben H. Fuller decided that the Marine Corps did not need organic artillery.  Fuller reasoned that since landing forces would operate within the range of naval gunfire, artillery units were an unnecessary expense.

General Fuller’s rationale was seriously flawed, however.  The Navy could be depended upon to “land the landing force,” but the safety of combat ships in enemy waters prevented naval commanders from committing to the notion of “remaining on station” while the Marines conducted operations ashore.[3]  Accordingly, the Secretary of the Navy overruled Fuller, directing that FLEX exercises incorporate Marine Corps artillery (provided by the 10th Marines), which at the time fielded the 75-mm pack howitzer.[4]

With its new emphasis on amphibious warfare, the Marine Corps readied itself for conducting frontal assaults against well-defended shore installations — with infantry battalions organized to conduct a sustained operation against a well-fortified enemy.  When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced a “limited national emergency.”  Doing so permitted the Marine Corps to increase its recruiting to authorized wartime strength — including Advance Defense Battalions (ADB).

At first, ADBs operated as expeditionary coastal artillery units capable of occupying an undefended beach and establishing “all-around” sea-air defenses.  The average strength of the ADB was 1,372 Marines; their armaments included eight 155-mm guns, 12 90-mm guns, 25 20-mm guns, and 35 50-caliber machine guns.[5]  The staffing demand for twenty (20) ADBs initially fractured the Marine Corps’ artillery community, but approaching Japan’s sneak attack on 7 December 1941, HQMC began organizing its first infantry divisions, including a T/O artillery regiment.

World War II

During World War II, the Marine Corps formed two amphibious corps, each supported by three infantry divisions and three air wings.  In 1941, the capabilities of artillery organizations varied according to weapon types.  For instance, the 10th Marines might have 75mm pack howitzers, while the 11th Marines might field 155-mm howitzers.  But, by 1942, each artillery regiment had three 75-mm howitzer battalions and one 105-mm howitzer battalion.  An additional 105-mm howitzer battalion was added to each regiment in 1943.  By 1945, each artillery regiment hosted four 105-mm battalions.

The Marine Corps re-activated the 11th Marines on 1 March 1941 for service with the 1st Marine Division (1stMarDiv).  The regiment served on Guadalcanal (1942), Cape Gloucester (1943), Peleliu (1944), and Okinawa (1945).  At the end of World War II, the 11th Marines also served in China as part of the Allied occupation forces, returning to Camp Pendleton, California, in 1947.

HQMC re-activated the 10th Marines on 27 December 1942.  Assigned to the 2ndMarDiv, the 10th Marines served on Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa.  During the Battle of Okinawa, the 10th Marines served as a reserve artillery force.  After Japan’s surrender, the 10th Marines performed occupation duty in Nagasaki, Japan.  The regiment returned to the United States in June 1946.

HQMC activated the 12th Marines on 1 September 1942 for service with the 3rdMarDiv, where it participated in combat operations at Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima.  The 12th Marines were redeployed to Camp Pendleton, California, and de-activated on 8 January 1946.

The 14th Marines reactivated on 1 June 1943 for service with the 4thMarDiv.  The regiment served at Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.  Following the Battle of Iwo Jima, the 14th Marines returned to Hawaii, then to Camp Pendleton, where it disbanded on 20 November 1945.

HQMC activated the 13th Marines for service with the 5thMarDiv on 10 January 1944.  Following operations on Iwo Jima, the regiment performed as an occupation force at Kyushu, Japan.  The 13th Marines deactivated at Camp Pendleton, California, on 12 January 1946.

The 15th Marines was activated to serve with the 6thMarDiv on 23 October 1943.  This regiment participated in the Battle of Okinawa and later as an occupation force in Tsingtao, China.  The 15th Marines deactivated on 26 March 1946 while still deployed in China.

(Continued Next Week)

Sources:

  1. Brown, R. J.  A Brief History of the 14th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1990
  2. Buckner, D. N.  A Brief History of the 10th Marines.  Washington: US Marine Corps History Division, 1981
  3. Butler, M. D.  Evolution of Marine Artillery: A History of Versatility and Relevance.  Quantico: Command and Staff College, 2012.
  4. Emmet, R.  A Brief History of the 11th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1968
  5. Kummer, D. W.  U. S. Marines in Afghanistan, 2001-2009.  Quantico: U.S. Marine Corps History Division, 2014.
  6. Russ, M.  Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950.  Penguin Books, 1999.
  7. Shulimson, J., and C. M. Johnson.  US Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965.  Washington: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1978.
  8. Smith, C. R.  A Brief History of the 12th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1972.
  9. Strobridge, T. R.  History of the 9th Marines.  Quantico: Gray Research Center, 1961, 1967.

Endnotes:

[1] The Advanced Base Force later evolved into the Fleet Marine Force (FMF).

[2] Embarking a Marine combat force aboard US Navy ships or conducting amphibious operations is not a simple task.  The officers and men who plan such operations, and those who implement them, as among the most intelligent and insightful people wearing an American military uniform.

[3] In August 1942, the threat to the Navy’s amphibious ready group by Imperial Japanese naval forces prompted Vice Admiral Frank J. Fletcher, Commander, Task Force 61, to withdraw his force from Guadalcanal before the 1stMarDiv’s combat equipment and stores had been completely offloaded.  Fletcher’s decision placed the Marines in a serious predicament ashore, but the Battle of Savo Island on 9 August proved that Fletcher’s decision was tactically sound. 

[4] A howitzer is a rifled field gun that stands between a cannon and a mortar.  Howitzers are organized as “batteries.”  The 75-mm Howitzer (M-116) was designed in the 1920s to meet the need for a field weapon capable of movement across difficult terrain.  In other words, the weapon could be “packed” into barely accessible areas and used to provide direct artillery support to infantry units.

[5] Such was the 1st Defense Battalion at Wake Island between 8-23 December 1941.


Marine Corps Artillery — Part 1

The Early Years

Mission

— Furnish close and continuous fire support by neutralizing, destroying, or suppressing targets that threaten the success of supported units.  To accomplish this mission, Marine Corps artillery (a) provides timely, close, accurate, and continuous fire support.  (b) Provides depth to combat by attacking hostile reserves, restricting movement, providing long-range support for reconnaissance forces, and disrupting enemy command and control systems and logistics installations.[1]  (c) Delivers counter-fire within the range of the weapon systems to ensure freedom of action by the ground forces.

Historical Note

For half of its 245-years, the U.S. Marine Corps has operated as a task-organized, mission-centered expeditionary force capable of quickly responding to any national emergency when so directed by the national military command authority.  The term “task organized” simply means that the size of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) depends entirely on the mission assigned to it.  A Marine Corps combat team could range from a rifle company to a reinforced brigade.

Before the Spanish-American War, when the mission of the Marine Corps was limited to providing sea-going detachments of qualified riflemen, the size of the Corps depended on the number of ships that required Marine Detachments.[2]  The mission of the Marine Corps has changed considerably since the Spanish-American War.  The U.S. Navy’s evolving role is one factor in the changing Marine Corps mission, but so too is advancing technological development and a greater demand for the Corps’ unique mission capabilities.  One thing hasn’t changed: The Marine Corps has always been —and remains today— essentially a task-organized service.  Today, we refer to all forward-deployed Marine Corps combat forces as Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs).

The Basics

Artillery lends dignity to what would otherwise be an ugly brawl.

—Frederick the Great

Artillery is a weapons platform used for launching munitions beyond the range of infantry weapons.  Modern artillery evolved from much-simpler weapons in ancient times — used to breach fortifications and by defensive forces to withstand an enemy assault.  Although not referred to as artillery, siege engines such as the catapult have been around since around 400 BC.  Until the development of gunpowder, the effectiveness of artillery depended on mechanical energy.  If one wanted to increase the effectiveness of such weapons, then one would have to construct larger engines.  Gunpowder changed all that.  For instance, first-century Roman catapults launching a 14-pound stone could achieve kinetic energy of 16,000 joules.[3]  A 12-pound gun in the mid-19th century reached kinetic energy of 240,000 joules.

In the Middle Ages, artillerists adapted their weapons to support land armies.  They accomplished this by constructing horse-drawn wagons to provide mobility to heavy weapons.  Before the 20th century, when artillerists (gun crews) marched along beside the horse-drawn wagons, field artillery was commonly referred to as “foot artillery.”  There was also a distinction between field artillery and horse artillery; the latter was used to support cavalry units, employing lighter guns and, eventually, horse-mounted gun crews.  During World War I, technology changed horse-drawn artillery to wheeled or tracked vehicles.

Marine Corps Artillery: The Early Years

In addition to serving as shipboard riflemen, early Marines also manned naval guns.  This may be the Corps’ earliest connection to the use of artillery.  There are differences between the employment of naval vs. land artillery, but the fundamentals are similar.  Nevertheless, the evolution of Marine artillery is linked to the growth of the Corps, and the modern development of the Corps began at the outset of the Spanish-American War.  Marines have performed amphibious raids and assaults from its very beginning, but only as small detachments, often augmented by members of the ship’s crew (ship’s company).  The Marine Corps formed its first (task-organized) amphibious battalion in the Spanish-American War.  In that episode, the Corps distinguished itself as a naval assault force and proved its usefulness in projecting naval power ashore.  See also: The First Marine Battalion.

As the U.S. Navy grew into a global force, the Marine Corps grew with it.[4]  Within a few decades, the Marine Corps evolved from shipboard detachments and providing security for naval yards and stations to a force capable of seizing and defending advanced bases and forming and employing expeditionary assault forces.  Artillery played a vital role in this evolution. From that time on, innovative thinkers helped make the Marine Corps relevant to the ever-evolving nature of war and its usefulness to our national defense.

The Marine Corps developed tables of organization and equipment (TO/E) to standardize requirements for combat and combat support personnel and their equipment.  For example, all infantry, artillery, and combat support battalions are uniformly organized.  Artillery regiments (generally) have the same number of battalions, battalions have the same number of batteries, and all headquarters/firing batteries are likewise similar in composition.[5]  Organizational standardization remains a key element used by headquarters staff in determining whether or the extent to which Marine Corps units are combat-ready.

Infantry is the mission of the Marine Corps — projecting naval power ashore.  The mission for anyone who is not an infantryman is to support the infantryman.  The mission of Marine Corps artillery reflects this reality.

Following the Spanish-American War (1898), the Marine Corps developed the Advanced Base Force.  This was essentially a coastal and naval base defense battalion designed to establish mobile and fixed bases in the event of major landing operations outside the territorial limits of the United States.  The Advanced Base Force was a significant shift away from the Marine Corps’ mission up to that time.  It marked the beginning of Marine expeditionary forces.

The Advanced Base Force was useful because it enabled the Navy to meet the demands of maritime operations independent of the nation’s land force, the U.S. Army.  This decision was far more than an example of service rivalry; it was practical.  In many cases, troops, and supplies (as the Army might have provided) were simply unavailable at the time and place the Navy needed them.  The General Board of the Navy determined, at least initially, that no more than two regiments of Advance Base Forces would be required from the Marine Corps.[6]  In those days, Advanced Base Battalions had one artillery battery (to provide direct fire support to the battalion) and naval shore batteries to defend against hostile naval forces.

In July 1900, a typical Marine artillery unit was equipped with 3-inch guns and colt automatic weapons.  The Marine Corps organized its first artillery battalion in April 1914 at Vera Cruz, Mexico.  This battalion would become the foundation of the 10th Marine Regiment, which distinguished itself in combat in the Dominican Republic in 1916.

First World War

Global war didn’t just suddenly appear at America’s doorstep in 1917; it had as its beginnings the Congress of Vienna in 1814.  By the time the United States entered World War I,  the war to end all wars was already into its third year of bloody mayhem.  During those three years, the American press continually reported on such incidents as German submarine attacks on U.S. commercial shipping and a German proposal to Mexico for an invasion of states in the U.S. Southwest.  There is no evidence that Mexico ever gave serious consideration to Germany’s proposal.

To prepare for America’s “possible” involvement, Congress authorized an expansion of the Marine Corps to include two infantry brigades, two air squadrons, and three regiments of artillery.  The three artillery regiments and their initial date of activation were: the 11th Marines (3 January 1918), the 10th Marines (15 January 1918), and the 14th Marines (26 November 1918).

Major General Commandant George Barnett wanted to form a Marine infantry division for duty in France; General John J. Pershing, U.S. Army, commanding the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) not only opposed the formation of a Marine infantry division, but he also wasn’t fond of the idea of Marine Corps artillery regiments.[7], [8]

When the Commanding Officer of the 11th Marines became aware of Pershing’s objection to Marine artillery, he petitioned the Commandant to re-train his regiment as an infantry organization.  Thus, in September 1918, the 11th Marines deployed to France as an infantry regiment of the 5th Marine Brigade.  However, once the 5th Brigade arrived in France, General Pershing exercised his prerogative as overall American commander to break up the brigade and use these men as he saw fit.  Pershing assigned most of these Marines to non-combat or combat support duties.  Upon returning to the United States in August 1919, Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC) deactivated the 11th Marines.

The Commanding Officer of the 10th Marines also pushed for service in France.  The regiment was equipped with 3-inch guns.  Since there were no 3-inch guns in France, the War Department (Army) barred the 10th Marines from European service.  When the Navy offered to convert 14-inch naval rifles for use as rail guns (mounted on train cars), the War Department conditionally approved the suggestion (along with a 7-inch weapon) — but only so long as the Navy used sailors to man the guns, not Marines.[9]  Eventually, the Navy negotiated a compromise with the Army: sailors would handle the 14-inch guns, and the 10th Marines would service the 7-inch guns.  The 10th Marines began training with the 7-inch guns in early October 1918.  The war ended on 11 November 1918.  On 1 April 1920, the 10th Marine regiment was re-designated as the 1st Separate Field Artillery Battalion, which had, by then, incorporated French 75-mm and 155-mm howitzers.

The 14th Marines, having been trained as both infantry and artillery, never deployed to Europe.  The result of political/in-service rivalry was that no Marine Corps artillery units participated in World War I.

(Continued next week)

Sources:

  1. Brown, R. J.  A Brief History of the 14th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1990
  2. Buckner, D. N.  A Brief History of the 10th Marines.  Washington: US Marine Corps History Division, 1981
  3. Butler, M. D.  Evolution of Marine Artillery: A History of Versatility and Relevance.  Quantico: Command and Staff College, 2012.
  4. Emmet, R.  A Brief History of the 11th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1968
  5. Kummer, D. W.  U. S. Marines in Afghanistan, 2001-2009.  Quantico: U.S. Marine Corps History Division, 2014.
  6. Russ, M.  Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950.  Penguin Books, 1999.
  7. Shulimson, J., and C. M. Johnson.  U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965.  Washington: Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1978.
  8. Smith, C. R.  A Brief History of the 12th Marines.  Washington: Headquarters, US Marine Corps, 1972.
  9. Strobridge, T. R.  History of the 9th Marines.  Quantico: Gray Research Center, 1961, 1967.

Endnotes:

[1] Also, shaping the battle space.

[2] The size of the detachment depended on the size of the ship.

[3] A measure of energy equal to the work done by a force of one newton when its point of application moves one meter in the direction of action of the force, equivalent to one 3600th of a watt hour.  A newton is equal to the force that would give a mass of one kilogram an acceleration of one meter per second – per second.

[4] If there is a “father of the modern navy,” then it must be Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914), whom historian John Keegan believes is the most important strategist of the 19th Century and, perhaps, the most influential American author of his time (1890).  Mahan’s writing so influenced Theodore Roosevelt that it led him to pursue modernization of the US Navy as the key to achieving America’s full potential as an actor on the world stage.

[5] Currently, infantry battalions consist of “lettered” rifle companies.  Artillery battalions consist of “lettered” firing batteries.  In the past, when the primary mission of a combat organization was infantry, subordinate units were generally referred to as companies, even when one of those subordinate units was an artillery unit.

[6] Established in 1900, the General Board of the Navy was tasked to anticipate and plan for future tasks,  missions, and strategic challenges and make recommendations to the Secretary of the Navy on matters of naval policy, including the task organization of naval expeditionary forces.

[7] Senior army officers had legitimate concerns with regard to the incorporation of Marines into field armies during World War I.  Beyond the fact that army officers did not see a need for a Corps of Marines, and regarded them as a “waste of manpower” that could be better utilized in the army, the naval forces operated under a different system of laws and regulations.  Perhaps the question in the minds of some senior army officers was whether the Marines would obey the orders of their army commanders.

[8] Prior to World War I, it was common practice for shipboard Marine Detachments to form provisional (temporary) organizations for specific purposes.  In most instances, such organizations involved provisional battalions, but occasionally the Marines also formed provisional regiments and brigades.  When the mission assigned to these provisional organizations was completed, brigades, regiments, and battalions would deactivate, and the Marines assigned to such organizations would return to their regular assignments.  Marine regiments did not have formally structured battalions until after World War I.  Instead, regiments were composed of numbered companies (e.g., 24th Company).  One of the army’s concerns was that the use of Marine formations within Army units would only confuse ground commanders and further complicate the battlefront.  It was during World War I that the Marine Corps adopted the Army’s regimental system.  Rifle companies were formed under battalions, and battalion commanders answered to their respective regimental commanders.

[9] Before 1947, the Secretary of War (Army) and Secretary of the Navy operated as co-equal cabinet posts.  After the creation of the Department of Defense, all military secretaries, service chiefs, and combat forces operated under the auspices of the Secretary of Defense (except the Coast Guard, which at first operated under the Treasury Department and now operates under the Department of Homeland Security).


No Excuses — Fight or Die

Introduction

Archaeologists and historians will say that maritime history dates back “thousands” of years, citing evidence of sea trade between ancient civilizations and the discovery of pre-historic boats, such as dugout canoes developed somewhat independently by various stone age populations.  Of course, fashioning out a handmade canoe and using it to cross a river may not exactly qualify as “maritime.”  Nor should we conclude that Austronesian explorers qualified as a naval force, per se, but it was a start.

Egyptians had well-developed trade routes over the Red Sea to Arabia.  Navigation was known to the Sumerians between 4,000-3,000 B.C., and it was the search for trade routes that led the world into the Age of Exploration and Discovery.

Minoan traders from Crete were active in the Mediterranean by 2,000 B.C., and the Phoenicians (ancient Lebanese) became a somewhat substantial maritime culture from around 2,500 to 64 B.C.  What the ancient Syrians, Greeks, and Romans knew of sailing vessels, they learned from the Phoenicians.  At least, that’s what we believe.

Ancient Rome

The Romans were an agricultural/land-based culture.  There is evidence of a “warship” that carried a Roman ambassador to Delphi in 394 BC, but history’s first mention of a Roman navy didn’t occur until 311 B.C.  In that year, citizens of Rome elected two men to serve as “naval officers,” charging them with creating and maintaining a fleet of ships.  They were called Duumviri Navales (literally, “two men for dealing with naval matters).  Each officer controlled twenty ships.  There is some confusion, however, whether these officers exercised command over Roman ships or those of Roman allies. The ships were very likely triremes — a type of galley with three banks of oars (one man per oar).

Because Rome was a land-based culture, its primary defense and expansionist element was its land army.  Maritime trade did become an important element of the Roman economy, but this trade involved privately owned ships who assumed the risk of losses at sea due to storms and pirates rather than “Roman flagged” vessels.  When Rome did incorporate naval warships, they always served in a support role and as part of the Roman Army.  Any career soldier today will tell you that’s the way it should be — but then this would be the same kind of soldier who thought it would be a good idea to use camels in the U.S. Cavalry.

Artist’s rendition of a Roman Galley

Ships capable of survival at sea were always an expensive proposition, and comparatively speaking, there were never large numbers of people standing in line to go to sea.  Men of the ancient world were always fearful of the sea (as they should be even now).  To avoid the expense of building and maintaining ships, a Roman legate generally called upon Greeks to provide ships and crews whenever necessary to impose blockades.

It wasn’t until the Romans set their sights on Sicily in 265 BC that they realized that their land-based army needed the support of a fleet of ships to maintain a flow of supplies and communicate with the Roman Senate.  This realization prompted the senate to approve the construction of 100 quinqueremes and 20 triremes in 261 B.C.[1] [2]  Note also that quinqueremes were referred to as “the fives” because the rowers were arranged in groups of five. The Romans arranged their ships’ company as centuries (100 men per ship).  Contrary to Hollywood films, Roman crews, particularly the rowers, were seldom slaves.  Roman crewmen were free-born citizens or provincials who signed on as rowers, artisans, riggers, or Marinus (Marines).

To the Marines (naval infantry) fell the task of defending their ship or assaulting an enemy vessel.  This was accomplished by archers, followed by boarders armed with the Roman gladii (short sword).  Thus, the primary tactical objective at sea was to board and seize enemy ships.  What a fantastic experience that must have been.  Boarding activities remained prevalent long after the advent of sailing ships, gunpowder, and massive cannon.

Naval Forces in the Middle Ages

Beginning sometime after 1300 rowed A.D. galleys were replaced by sailing ships armed with broadside-mounted cannons. It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of this innovation because combining the striking power of massed artillery with shipboard Marines firing from the topsail rigging was an enormous leap forward in naval warfare.  Equally significant, naval power became the means by which Europeans created and maintained their overseas empires.

However, early in the Elizabethan era, ships were thought of as little more than transport vehicles for troops. The goal then was to corral an enemy ship, storm it, and capture it.  There was no value to sinking an enemy ship.[3]  A sea captain could sell a captured ship, its cargo, and occasionally, he could ransom passengers and crew or sell them into slavery.[4]

Beginning in medieval times, the design of ships emphasized resistance to boarders.  A ship’s aft and forecastle, for example, closely resembled towering fortresses bristling with archery and gun slits.  Necessity being the mother of invention, maritime tactics evolved further when it became apparent that defeating the enemy would require “other means.”

The Royal Navy’s Articles of War

What the United States Navy knew about operations at sea it learned from the British Royal Navy, and if we are to understand how the Royal Navy became the world’s most formidable sea power, then we must look to the British Navy’s Articles of War.  The Articles of War governed how men in uniform conducted themselves under almost every set of circumstances, including during combat.

To begin with, a British navy commander’s defeat at sea was never acceptable to either the sovereign, the admiralty, or to the Parliament.  The commanding officer of a British warship must engage the enemy and defeat him, or he must die in the attempt — even if the British ship was “outclassed.”  The standard applied to naval warfare in the 1700s and 1800s was that a British naval commander entrusted with the control of a warship should defeat an enemy ship twice as large as his own.  Fighting the vessel was the British commander’s first critical mission; winning the fight was the second.

Article XII, Articles of War, 1749: 

Every person in the Fleet, who through cowardice, negligence, or disaffection, shall in time of action withdraw or keep, or not come into the fight or engagement, or shall not to do his utmost to take or destroy every ship which it shall be his duty to engage, and to assist and relieve all and every of His Majesty’s Ships, or those of his allies, which it shall be his duty to assist and relieve, every such person so offending, and being convicted thereof the sentence of a court-martial, shall suffer death.”

Before 1749, British naval officers had demonstrated a tendency to refuse to engage the enemy if there was any possibility that the British ship would be lost.  This behavior was, perhaps, caused in part by common sense and the fact that naval courts refused to inflict severe punishments on such officers.  The Articles of War of 1661 allowed that losses at sea could result from the ill fortunes of nature, but Article XII ruled out all such excuses. 

Nor was there, after 1749, a great deal of “special trust and confidence” in the fidelity and ability of British naval commanders.  We know this because it was the duty of the ship’s First Lieutenant to maintain a log of his captain’s actions — he was the ship’s watchdog.  If the First Lieutenant had formed a too-personal relationship with his captain, other lieutenants were encouraged to watch and record the actions of the First Lieutenant.  The ship’s master also maintained a journal.[5]  The Royal Navy’s intent was clear: there would be no lying or “fudging” journals in His or Her Majesty’s navy.[6]

Nothing was more motivational, however than case law.

The island of Minorca had been a British possession since 1708, captured during the War of Spanish Succession.  In 1748, government cost-cutting measures reduced the Royal Navy to three ships of the line in the Mediterranean Sea.  As the British sought to expand their territory in North America in 1754, hostilities broke out between the British and French (and their Indian allies), quickly spreading to British and French allies in Europe.

In 1755, France began the process of constructing twelve new warships.  British diplomats warned the Home Office that France would soon be in a position to attack Minorca.  Lord High Admiral George Anson, out of his concern of a possible French invasion of England, recalled the Mediterranean squadron and assigned them to patrol duties along England’s long coastline.  The Royal Navy could not afford to lose three ships of the line.

On 11 March 1756, the British Admiralty ordered Admiral John Byng to raise a fleet of ten ships, proceed to Toulon to protect the British garrison at Port Mahon.  However, only six ships were present in Portsmouth, and all of them were in a state of disrepair (not ready for sea).  Moreover, none of those ships were fully manned.  Admiral Byng, realizing that there was no money to repair the vessels or construct four additional ships and because no one in England was willing to enlist in the Royal Navy, struggled to find a solution to the problem.  There were no solutions.  Admiral Byng promptly protested his orders.  What the Admiralty demanded of him was impossible to achieve.

The Admiralty eventually provided funds for ship repairs and instructed Byng to carry out his orders.  When shipwrights informed Byng that repairs would take longer than expected, the Admiralty ordered Byng to outfit channel ships and proceed to Port Mahon in advance of his somewhat diminished fleet.[7]

On 6 April, still short of men, the British army loaned the navy Colonel Robert Bertie’s fusilier regiment, enabling Admiral Byng to set sail from Portsmouth.[8]  While Byng was en route to Toulon, a fleet of French naval vessels escorted 1,000 tartanes and other transports carrying 15,000 French troops to the far western side of Minorca.[9]

Upon his arrival at Gibraltar, Admiral Byng reported to the senior officer, Lieutenant General Thomas Fowke.  In their meeting, Byng presented Fowke with a letter from the British Home Office instructing him to provide Admiral Byng with such troops as he may require toward completing his mission.

When Byng realized that the French had landed a large force of soldiers at Minorca, he requested a regiment of Royal Marines to bolster his forces.  General Fowke refused.  His refusal may have had some justification if, for example, providing the Marines would have reduced Fowke’s ability to defend the British garrison as Gibraltar.  In any case, Admiral Byng’s problem was further complicated because the ship repair facility at Gibraltar was inadequate to the task of repairing his ships.  Frustrated, Byng dispatched a terse note to the Admiralty explaining his situation and then, despite his dire circumstances, sailed toward Minorca to assess the situation first hand.

The Battle of Minorca was fought on 20 May 1756.  Byng had gained the weather gauge[10] and ordered a lasking maneuver[11] but his lead ship, HMS Defiance, rather than steering directly toward the enemy’s front, took a course parallel to that of the French fleet — with HMS Portland, Buckingham, and Lancaster, following in trace.  The delay in getting his ships back into the proper formation allowed the French to make the rest of the battle a running fight.

After a battle of around four hours in duration, the French successfully withdrew from Minorca with 38 dead seamen and 168 wounded.  Admiral Byng suffered extensive damage to one ship and the loss of 43 sailors killed and 173 wounded.  Still, Byng took up station near Minorca for four days.  After holding a council of war with his captains, Admiral Byng decided to return to Gibraltar for repairs, arriving on 19 June.

Before Byng could return to sea, a ship arrived from England with dispatches.  The Admiralty relieved Byng of his command, the Home Office relieved General Fowke of his command, and both men were ordered back to England to face court-martial charges. 

Upon arrival in England, authorities took Byng and Fowke into custody; both men received courts-martial.  The Home Office charged General Fowke with disobeying an order to support Byng with troops.[12]  The Admiralty charged Byng with violating Article XII, failing to do his duty against the enemy.

Admiral Byng’s court-martial resulted in an acquittal on the charge of cowardice, but he was found guilty of failing to exercise command of his fleet and failing to engage the enemy.  He was sentenced to death by firing squad.

Admiral of the Fleet John Forbes, Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty, was the officer who defeated the French at the Battle of Toulon in 1744.  It fell upon Forbes to sign Byng’s death warrant.  Forbes refused to sign the warrant because he believed Byng’s sentence was excessive and illegal.  King George II refused to grant clemency to Byng and further declined to approve Prime Minister William Pitt’s recommendation for commutation.  Thus, on 14 March 1757, Admiral Byng was escorted to the quarterdeck of HMS Monarch and shot dead by a squad of Royal Marines.

Article XII established the standard for command responsibility, but Byng’s court-martial set the legal precedent: a commanding officer is responsible for the actions of his subordinates.  If a junior officer runs the ship aground, the captain is responsible.  If a ship’s commander fails to maneuver his vessel properly, his senior officer is responsible.  If a captain fails to fight his ship, his admiral is responsible.

The American Navy

The power of Congress to regulate the Army and Navy was first established during the Second Continental Congress, which on 30 June 1775, legislated 69 Articles of War to govern the conduct of the Continental Army (which, at the time, also included the Navy).  The Articles of War, 1775, were not identical to the Articles of War promulgated by Great Britain but quite similar.  Congress retained this power in the U.S. Constitution, promulgated within Article I, section 8, stating, “It shall be the power of the Congress to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces.”

On 10 April 1806, Congress enacted 101 Articles of War.  These were not significantly revised until 1912 and remained in effect until 31 May 1951, when Congress developed and implemented the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

Notably, Article 52 of the Articles of War (1806) stated:

 “Any officer or soldier, who shall misbehave himself before the enemy, run away, or shamefully abandon any fort, post, or guard, which he or they may be commanded to defend, or speak words inducing others to do the like, or shall cast away his arms and ammunition, or who shall quit his post or colours [sic] to plunder and pillage, every such offender, being duly convicted thereof, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as shall be ordered by the sentence of a general court-martial.”

About navy fighting formations

There were only a few fighting formations of a naval fleet under sail.  Responsibility for selecting which formation (or variation) employed during a sea battle fell to the fleet admiral (or commodore): line ahead,[13] line abreast, and line of bearing.  The admiral also determined sailing order — first ship in line, second, and so forth.  In establishing his combat formation, the fleet admiral would attempt to gain the weather gauge and signal his intent to subordinate commanders through signal flags.

The line ahead formation did not allow for concentration of fire because, for naval guns to be effective on a rolling platform, combatants had to close to 300 — 500 yards of the enemy.  The most devastating assault came from raking fire, initiated either from the bow or stern where cannon shot would do the most damage by traveling the length of the enemy ship.

Admiral Horatio Nelson was the first British officer to break the line in 1797 and again in 1805.  His instruction to his captains was, “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of his enemy.”  Breaking the enemy’s line disrupted the enemy’s cohesion and made it possible to overwhelm individual ships and seize them.  Again, the primary aim of the battle formation was to board and capture the enemy’s ships.

Boarding Operations

Boarding Operations may be the world’s oldest example of naval warfare.  The boarding of an enemy vessel, or a friendly one to capture it from pirates and other low vermin, is an example of up close and personal extremism — which more or less defines all close combat.  To achieve cross-ship boarding, the offending vessel needed to sail alongside the enemy vessel and direct an assault onto the enemy vessel.  The individuals performing this operation were sailors and Marines who were (and are) trained for such missions.  In the days of sail, sailors performed the task when the attacking ship was too small for a detachment of Marines.

Armed with swords, cutlasses, pistols, muskets, boarding axes, pikes, and grenades, the boarding party attacked the enemy crew, beginning with the helmsman and officer of the watch, or the ship’s captain if present on the bridge, all gun crews, and any other crewman left alive.  Again, the purpose of boarding operations was to seize the ship, which was always the intent of privateers and pirates — even today.

Captain John Paul Jones conducted a classic example of boarding operations during the American Revolution.  Jones’ Marines assaulted HMS Serapis from the sinking USS Bonhomme Richard in 1779.  Captain Jones’s boarding operation is exemplary because it was the only known fight during the Age of Sail when a ship’s captain captured an enemy ship while losing his own.  In 1813, the British returned the compliment by boarding and seizing USS Chesapeake from HMS Shannon.

Boarding enemy ships was also the purpose of the “cutting out” operations during the Age of Sail.  To “cut out” is to seize and carry off an enemy vessel while at anchor in a harbor or at sea.  The operation would typically target a small warship (a brig, sloop, or a two-masted ship of fewer than 20 guns).  Cutting out operations avoided larger ships because of the crew size (300 or so men).

A cutting-out party would generally include sailors and Marines who began the assault in the dark of night.  For an example of a cutting-out operation, see also At the Heart of the Corps and the capture of the Sandwich during the Quasi-War with France.

Boarding operations are rare in modern times.  U. S. Marines conducted their last boarding operation during the Mayaguez Incident in 1975, which involved a vertical assault from helicopters. Current operations may also involve small submarines and inflatable boats.  The U.S. Coast Guard routinely incorporates boarding operations as part of its maritime drug interdiction operations.

A Final Note

While the Uniform Code of Military Justice is a massive improvement over the articles of war, severe penalties are still prescribed for certain crimes.  The Manual for Courts-martial, Article 99 (Misbehavior Before the Enemy) includes, as offenses: (a) running away from a fight, (b) shamefully abandoning, surrendering, or delivering up any command, unit, place, or military property, which it is a duty to defend, (c) through disobedience, neglect, or intentional misconduct, endanger the safety of any command, unit, place, or military property, (d) casting away arms (weapons) or ammunition, (e) displaying cowardly conduct, (f) quitting one’s place of duty to plunder or pillage, (g) causing false alarms, (h) willfully failing to do one’s utmost to encounter, engage, capture, or destroy enemy troops, combatants, vessels, aircraft, or any other thing, which it is a serviceman’s duty to do, and/or (i) failing to afford all practicable relief and assistance to troops, combatants, vessels, or aircraft of the armed forces of the United States or their allies when engaged in battle.  Any person found guilty of these offenses shall face a maximum punishment of death.

Sources

  1. Abbot, W. J.  The Naval History of the United States.  Collier Press, 1896.
  2. Bradford, J. C.  Quarterdeck and Bridge: Two centuries of American Naval Leaders.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1955.
  3. McKee, C.  A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U. S. Naval Officer Corps, 1794-1815.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1991
  4. Rak, M. J., Captain, USN.  The Quasi-War and the Origins of the Modern Navy and Marine Corps.  Newport: U.S. Naval War College, 2020
  5. The Library of Congress, Military Legal Resources, online.
  6. Warming, R.  An Introduction to Hand-to-Hand Combat at Sea: General Characteristics and Shipborne Tactics from 1210 BCE to 1600 CE.  Academia College, 2019.
  7. Winthorpe, W.  Military Law and Precedents.  Washington: Government Printing Office, 1920.
  8. United States Constitution, Article I, section 8.

Endnotes:

[1] The quinquereme was the more common Hellenistic-era warship, and the heaviest at that particular time.  The Romans seized a Carthaginian ship, took it back to Rome, reverse-engineered it, and used it as a blueprint for Roman-made ships.  The quinquereme had three to five banks of oars.  The trireme had only three banks of oars but was much lighter and faster. 

[2] Roman commanders of these ships were “Magistrates,” who knew nothing of sailing ships, but they were supported by lower-ranking officers who were seasoned sailors (most likely Greek seamen). 

[3] Sinking ships as a naval strategy didn’t evolve until the mid-1800s when nations began building ironclad ships.

[4] In time, a ship’s captain would share the prize money with his crew as a reward for their victory at sea.

[5] The term “ship’s captain” is the traditional title of the person who serves in overall command of a ship.  The naval rank of that person could be Lieutenant, Commander, or Captain — but no matter what his rank, he is called “Captain.”  A ship’s master is the person who runs the ship (rather than commanding it).  He is the most experienced seaman, and what he doesn’t know about running a ship isn’t worth knowing.    

[6] One could understand this mindset in the British Army, where aristocrats bought and sold commissions.  Under those conditions, there was never a guarantee that a colonel knew what the hell he was doing.  The Royal Navy never sold commissions.  All navy officers were promoted on merit.

[7] Channel ships (or Packet Ships) were medium-sized vessels designed to carry mail, passengers, and cargo.  They were not suitable for sea battles with regular ships of the line. 

[8] A fusil is a flintlock musket; a fusilier is someone who shoots a fusil.  Also, musketeer or in modern parlance, a rifleman.

[9] A tartane was a small coastal trader/fishing vessel.

[10] Position of advantage in sea battles.

[11] A maneuver in which all ships turn into the enemy at once.

[12] King George II dismissed Fowke from the Army.  King George III later reinstated him.

[13] Line-ahead battle formation (also, Ship of the line warfare) was a columnar formation developed in the mid-17th Century whereby each ship followed in the wake of the ship ahead at regular intervals.  This formation maximized the firing power of the broadside and allowed for rapid “melee formation” or, if necessary, disengagement.  Note that a ship of the line was of the largest (most formidable) fighting ship used in the line of battle (formation). 


At Rest on Iwo Jima

Colorized version of the Rosenthal Photograph

The battle began on 19 February 1945; it wasn’t over until the end of March.  Some say that this battle has never ended because we continue to remember what happened there.  What happened was that more than 100,000 Americans landed on a volcanic island to take it away from its Japanese defenders so that the U.S. forces could have an emergency landing site for the bomber pilots and crews of the U.S. Army Air Corps.  U.S. forces killed around 19,000 Japanese — and we’re told that 3,000 more were sealed up inside a vast network of caves to suffocate.  Of so many Japanese, the Americans took only 216 as prisoners.  Of the Americans, Japanese defenders killed 6,102 Marines, 719 sailors, 41 soldiers, and wounded 19,709.  One of those killed, whose body the Americans never recovered, was Staff Sergeant Bill Genaust, USMC.

We believe William H. Genaust was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on 12 October 1906, the son of Herman and Jessie Fay Genaust, and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Like many Americans, he enlisted to serve his country during World War II.  For whatever reason, the Marines sent him for training as a photographer — and that’s what he did during the war: combat photography.

Some folks think that combat photography means taking pictures of an ongoing battle — and, of course, that’s entirely true.  But it also means participating in the struggle, particularly when your life is on the line or when your fellow soldiers/Marines are counting on you.  In 1944, Genaust fought alongside his fellow Marines at Saipan and displayed heroic actions during the battle while engaged with determined Japanese enemies and was wounded in action.  Genaust’s superiors nominated him for the award of the Navy Cross for these actions, but the Marine Corps downgraded the award to a Bronze Star medal.  Genaust was a cameraman, you see … not a rifleman.  Sadly, he never lived to receive his Bronze Star medal or his Purple Heart Medal.  Those items would arrive in the mail after he was long dead; the Marine Corps presented them to his next of kin, his wife Adelaide, instead.

Staff Sergeant Genaust could have gone home after receiving severe wounds to his legs on Saipan, but he opted to remain in theater.  After Saipan, after his recovery period, the Marines made Genaust an instructor to teach younger Marines how to take moving action films inside a combat zone.  The Marines were gearing up to participate in another major landing.  Three infantry divisions were placed under an amphibious corps.  Among the 70,000 Marines in readiness for another fight were sixty cameramen.  One of their supervisors was Bill Genaust.

When Staff Sergeant Genaust came ashore on 19 February 1945, he was with the 4th Marine Division. But a few days later, on 22 February, Genaust served with the 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, near the base of a mountain named Suribachi.  His orders were to film the action taking place at the base of the mountain and he was assisted in this mission by Marine Private First Class (PFC) Bob Campbell.

On the morning of 23 February, while serving as the Executive Officer (XO) of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, First Lieutenant Harold Schrier volunteered to lead a combat patrol to the top of Mount Suribachi, capture it, and signal his success by raising a flag from the pinnacle of the mountain.  Combat cameraman Staff Sergeant Lou Lowrey accompanied Schrier’s patrol.  At around 10:30 a.m., Lieutenant Schrier and two of his NCOs attached their small flag to a waterpipe that the Japanese had discarded and raised the flag atop Mount Suribachi.  This was the first flag raising, filmed by Staff Sergeant Lowrey. It was seen by almost no one.

SSgt Bill Genaust c.1944-45

At around noon, Genaust and Campbell were told to “join up” with Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal and accompany him to the top of Suribachi.  Rosenthal had also arrived on-island on 19 February but routinely returned to his ship each night — which is how Rosenthal had missed the first flag raising at mid-morning on 23 February.

The problem was that Schrier’s flag was too small to be seen with any clarity from the base of the mountain, so the 28th Marines’ commander produced a much larger flag.  Genaust, Campbell, and Rosenthal were told to accompany four Marines to the top of Suribachi, raise the larger flag, and record it on film.  On the way up, Rosenthal, Genaust, and Campbell met Lowrey, who was on the way back down and told them about the first flag raising.

Once on top, Genaust and Campbell located a second water pipe, attached the larger U.S. flag, and selected a place to anchor it — where it could be seen from any point on the island.  Lieutenant Schrier ordered the first flag lowered as the larger flag went up.  Staff Sergeant Genaust stood off to the left of Joe Rosenthal and filmed the action with his Bell & Howell Auto Master 16mm Motion Picture Camera.  Rosenthal became famous for capturing the flag-raising on black and white still film photography — a picture that appeared in U.S. newspapers on Sunday, 25 February 1945.  Genaust’s film captures other Marines on the summit as they gaze up at the American flag; men who do not appear on Rosenthal’s snap.[1]  Note also, there was an Army and Coast Guard photographer on Suribachi on 23 February 1945.

Within a few days, on 3 March 1945, Genaust’s supervisor reported him “missing in action” during combat operations at the entrance to a large cave near Hill 352-A (on the northern part of the island).  By the end of the next day, he was ruled “killed in action.”  Lieutenant Colonel Donald L. Dickson, who may have served in overall command of Marine combat correspondents and photographers at Iwo Jima, provided a two and a half-page letter to Bill Genaust’s wife, Adelaide.  Dickson’s account began with Sergeant Genaust’s service on Saipan but ended as follows:

As I understand it, a group of Marines were clearing caves of die-hard Japs.  Grenades were thrown in one cave, and it was believed all the enemy were killed.  The Marines wanted to double check and asked Bill if they could borrow his flashlight. Bill said he would go in with them.  They crawled in, and Bill flashed his light around.  There were many Japs still alive, and they immediately opened fire.  Bill dropped without a sound.  As the bearer of the light, he had been the first target for a number of bullets.  I feel sure he never knew what happened to him.

“The Marines forced the Japs deeper into the cave but could not get them out.  More men would have been killed in carrying out of the narrow cave Bill’s lifeless body.

“TNT charges were quickly placed at the cave mouth and exploded. The whole cave mouth was blocked with earth from the explosion, and Bill’s body was completely buried by it.[2]

According to the testimony of Marines present at the scene of Genaust’s death, he was hit multiple times by a Japanese machine gun.  U.S. officials have never recovered Sergeant Genaust’s body; the last attempt made occurred in 2007. 

Sergeant Genaust is one of around 250 Americans still missing from the Battle of Iwo Jima.  A memorial plaque with Genaust’s name inscribed can be found atop the summit of Mount Suribachi.  Moreover, an award in Genaust’s name is presented each year by the Marine Corps Historical Foundation, recognizing the work of military personnel and civilians toward preserving Marine Corps history.

Endnotes:

[1] Bill Genaust’s motion picture footage was used extensively by the National Archives (as reported by Criss Kovac) to identify Marines who participated in the flag-raising event but were earlier misidentified.  See also: USA Today.

[2] U.S. Marine Corps Archive Files, Quantico, Virginia: LtCol Dickson to Adelaide Genaust (3 pages) (undated letter).


Symbol of Command

The Marine Leader’s Sword

Introduction

One thing that stands out about the American republic is that it was born in war.  As statesmen declared the independence of the United States in a somewhat eloquent indictment of King George III, tens of thousands of British soldiers and sailors converged on the American colonies to subdue the rebellion by force.  The war would last eight years.  The revolutionaries armed themselves with weapons that primarily served as hunting weapons; the British military was better armed.

The critical task of supplying colonial troops with the weapons needed to defeat their British enemy fell upon the Congress.  In 1775, few factories in America were capable of producing firearms, swords, and other weapons, but none were capable of producing them in the quantities needed to sustain an army for several years.

At the height of the war, more than fifty-thousand men were under arms: another thirty-thousand troop served in state guard and militia units.  To arm these men against the well-supplied British regulars, Congressional agents gathered weapons from various sources on two continents.  Patriots had begun to store weapons in anticipation of hostilities between themselves and British regulars, some of which came from British armories and storehouses, provisional magazines, and supply ships.

At the beginning of the Revolution, Continental military officers relied on soldiers to bring their weapons from home — their hunting weapons, which included fowling pieces, smooth-bore Brown Bess muskets (suitable for use with ball or shot), and after 1776, the shotgun.  These weapons also included outdated or barely serviceable firearms from the French and Indian Wars and weapons captured from enemies.  It wasn’t a sufficient number of weapons.

It wasn’t long before congressional agents began issuing contracts to produce weapons.  The domestic arms industry struggled to expand to meet demand, but they simply could not meet the need to sustain American troops through a protracted conflict.  Congressional agents turned to France and Spain, who were too happy to supply arms to the Americans.  Shipments from France began in 1776and continued through 1783.

The Edged Weapons

Edged weapons played a critical role in the Revolutionary War.  Battles such as the Guilford Courthouse (North Carolina) were decided in bloody hand-to-hand combat where bayonets, swords, axes, and tomahawks were used with lethal effectiveness.  The battle was a victory for the British, but they marched off with far fewer men than before the battle began.

Infantrymen in close combat, no longer able to load and fire their long guns, relied on hanger (hunting) swords or bayonets.  Hunting swords were short, cut-and-thrust weapons used by German Jaegers and  American riflemen.  The bayonet was the most widely used edged weapon throughout the ages because it transformed muskets/rifles into a spear — which terrified inexperienced/poorly trained troops.  The officer’s small sword was a pervasive civilian pattern worn as part of a gentleman’s formal attire and the most common sword carried by officers during the Revolution.  Officer’s swords were light, straight, and slender in design; Cavalry swords were heavier, longer, and curved.[1]  Shown right, pre-Revolutionary gentleman’s sword owned by Richard Varick, Aide-de-Camp to General Washington.

The Marines

Marine Corps officers and noncommissioned officers have carried swords since the American Revolutionary War.  Presumably, the swords carried by officers ashore were gentleman’s swords, while officers and enlisted men serving aboard ship used cutlasses.[2]  What made cutlasses appropriate aboard ships was that they did not hinder or trip fighting men as they boarded enemy ships, climbed the rigging, or battled an enemy in close-in fighting.  The broad, heavy blade of the cutlass was sufficient for crushing skulls or decapitating heads.

The Continental Navy cutlass was the cousin of the cavalry saber but designed and constructed for fighting at sea, on crowded decks, in rolling seas.  Unlike the cavalry saber, the cutlass did not have the advantage of a galloping horse behind it, so its weight and the muscled arm of an experienced sailor or Marine had to be sufficient to kill the enemy, and the shorter time it took to do that, the better for whoever wielded it.  A large, enclosed handguard shielded the swordsman’s hand.

The cutlass was a highly specialized weapon that evolved from the falchion (shown right).  Between 1740-1780, the cutlass was a sturdy but straightforward instrument with an imported blade and a crude wooden cylinder for a hilt.  The single-edged blade was curved so slightly that it might appear straight at first.  One of the first Americans to make this weapon was Richard Gridley.  Even after 1775, the American cutlass was a crude affair, so whenever possible, rebels captured and used the superior British cutlass, the hilt of which was made of blackened iron.  The grip was hollow for a better balance.

The NCO’s

When serving ashore, starting in the 1820s, Marine NCOs began wearing distinctive short sabers with a cast brass eagle head hilt and curved blades.  In 1859, a completely new sword pattern emerged, originally patterned on the U.S. Army infantry officer’s sword (model 1850).  The Marine NCO sword may be patterned after the foot officer’s sword, but with significant differences.  The Army sword had heavy wide blades, while the early Marine NCO swords had highly polished blades.  These swords were finally incorporated into Marine Corps regulations in 1875 even though they were in use since 1859, and in fact, with slight modifications, remain in service today.  The M1859 Marine Corps NCO Sword is the oldest weapon in continued (unbroken) service in the U.S. weapons inventory.

Today’s NCO Sword features a cast-brass hilt with a half-basket handguard.  It has a leather-wrapped grip bound with twisted brass wire, a slightly curved, single-edged blade, beautifully etched, with a wide central fuller and short false edge.  The NCO sword comes with a black leather scabbard with two brass mounts.

Marine Officer’s Sword

The current Marine Corps Officer’s Sword is patterned on the Mameluke Sword allegedly presented to First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon by the Ottoman Empire, Viceroy Prince Hamet, on 8 December 1805, as a gesture of respect and praise for the Marine’s performance in combat at the Battle of Derna.  Subsequently, in 1825, the Commandant of the Marine Corps adopted the Mameluke Sword for wear by officers.[3] 

In 1859, the Marine Corps prescribed a completely new sword pattern for Marine Corps officers; it was the same sword prescribed for NCOs with differences in brass hilts, scabbard mounts, and hand grips.  The grips of NCO swords were wrapped in leather, while the officer’s grips were covered by sharkskin.  In 1875, Marine Corps regulations again prescribed the Mameluke Sword for wear by commissioned officers; it has been an item of a Marine Corps Officer’s seabag ever since.

The Mystery of O’Bannon’s Sword

Almost everyone, Marine or otherwise, knows about “Chesty” Puller.  My guess is that hardly anyone outside the Marine Corps knows about Presley O’Bannon, who has become a Marine Corps legend.  It has become a tradition in the Marine Corps to name its buildings in honor of those who distinguished themselves as Marines.  One such building at Quantico, Virginia, is O’Bannon Hall.  Literally, every Marine Corps second lieutenant wants to grow up and become like First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon.  He is, to Marines, a man from history who embodies what a Marine should be: Courageous, daring, and resourceful.  I know something of Lieutenant O’Bannon, primarily from my research on the Barbary Wars.  What I know of his sword, however, I picked up from the writings of Brigadier General E. H. Simmons, USMC (deceased).[4]

Presley Neville O’Bannon

As indicated previously, the popular story is that O’Bannon received the Mameluke Sword from Prince Hamet in recognition for his daring exploits during the Battle of Derna.  It may be accurate, but in the absence of written records, we aren’t entirely sure.  But there is a more plausible story, which is just as interesting.

To recap the event, First Lieutenant O’Bannon, a Navy midshipman, and six privates provided the backbone to a force of mercenaries raised and hired by U.S. Naval Agent William Eaton, himself a former U.S. Army officer.  Eaton hired these mercenaries in Egypt and, with O’Bannon as his second in command, marched 600 miles across the Libyan desert, intending to reinstate Hamet Qaramanli to his rightful throne.  Hamet had been forced out of Tripoli by his brother, Yusef, who seized the throne for himself.  Normally, this family matter would not have peeked the interests of the U.S. government, except that in May 1801, Yusef cut down the flagpole in front of the U.S. Consulate and declared war on the United States of America — an insult to the United States that could not be left unanswered.[5]

President Jefferson reciprocated by sending a naval squadron to the Mediterranean (the forerunner of today’s Sixth Fleet), but not much was accomplished in “demanding satisfaction” until Commodore Samuel Barron assumed command of the squadron in September 1804.  Serving under Barron was Mr. Eaton, a scholar of Arabic language and somewhat of an eccentric.

On 27 April 1805, Eaton assaulted the walled city of Derna under cover of smoothbore naval gunfire from the 18-gun brig USS Argus (captained by one of the navy’s greatest commanders, Master Commandant Isaac Hull), the sloop USS Hornet, and the schooner USS Nautilus.  Observing the action ashore, Master Commandant Hull reported: “At about half after three we had the satisfaction to see Lieutenant O’Bannon and Mr. Mann, midshipman of the Argus, with a few brave fellows with them, enter the fort, haul down the Enemy’s flag, and plant the American ensign on the walls of the battery.  And on turning the guns of the battery on the town, they found that the enemy had left them in great haste, as they [the guns] were found primed and loaded.  In two hours, the city was taken.”

So impressed was Hamet with O’Bannon’s courage that he presented him with a jeweled Mameluke scimitar.  This operation was later quite favorably noted by British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, calling it “The most daring act of the age.”  The problem is not with the operation, which is well-documented.  The problem, for Marines, is whether O’Bannon actually received a Mameluke sword from Hamet Bashaw.  If he did, where is it?

According to General Simmons, there are several claims (and possible answers) to the question, noting that senior European officers popularly wore the Mameluke (style) sword.  Napoleon had one.  The Duke of Wellington had one.  Senior flag officers in Great Britain continue to wear the Mameluke sword during ceremonies while in evening dress.  In other words, there were no shortages of Mameluke Swords from the early to mid-1800s.

There is a Mameluke Sword at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis that has “a claim” for being the genuine O’Bannon sword.  According to the curators, after receiving the sword from Hamet, Lieutenant O’Bannon passed it to his executive officer, Midshipman George Washington Mann — and it has remained in possession of the Mann family until it was loaned to the museum.

Midshipman Mann was the son of Colonel George Mann, born in Annapolis in 1783.  Colonel Mann owned an Inn on Conduit Street, which claims to be one of many places where General George Washington rested his weary head — and might account for Colonel Mann naming his son after the nation’s first Commander-in-Chief.

Mann entered naval service in 1801 and was posted to the Mediterranean Squadron.  In 1804, Midshipman Mann served aboard USS Argus, whose Marine Detachment Commander was First Lieutenant Presley N. O’Bannon.  O’Bannon himself received his commission as a second lieutenant of Marines in 1801 and served in the Mediterranean in 1802.  Argus was the ship that transported William Eaton to Alexandria, Egypt, in 1804.  To assist Eaton in his mission, Master Commandant Isaac Hull detached O’Bannon, Mann, and six privates to accompany him ashore.  Eaton’s mission was to locate Hamet Qaramanli in Egypt and, if possible, restore him to his rightful throne.  This particular story ends with the Battle of Derna (1805).

Afterward, Midshipman Mann returned home due to an injury to his eye, presumably received during the fight, but returned to active service in 1807.  The Navy advanced him to Lieutenant in 1809, and he served until 1811 when he resigned his commission and returned home.  The Mann family continues to live in the Annapolis area.

There is no question that the Mann family’s Mameluke sword is genuine.  However, the question remains whether it is the sword presented to Lieutenant O’Bannon.  The question arises from the fact that there is a near-identical Mameluke scimitar in the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown, Massachusetts, presented to Master Commandant Isaac Hull by William Eaton, accompanied by a letter written to Hull by Eaton on 14 January 1805.  In this letter, Eaton stated, “Kourshek Ahmet Pasha has given you a present of a superb saber which he intends for you, worth $200, all the gentlemen with me received the same compliment.”[6]

Presley Neville O’Bannon was one of the gentlemen present with Eaton when the swords were presented (i.e., more than one).  Midshipman Mann was also present.  The swords were given to “the gentlemen” in advance of the Battle of Derna, not as a reward for deeds accomplished but in anticipation of an event yet to come.  The Battle of Derna was fought between 27 April – 13 May 1805.  This brings us back to the question, “Where is Lieutenant O’Bannon’s sword?”

William Eaton returned to the United States in November 1805 through Norfolk, Virginia.  At a dinner in his honor held in Richmond, both Lieutenant O’Bannon and Midshipman Mann received toasts in absentia as “… the heroes who first planted the American banner on the walls of Derna.”  The following month, Mr. John Love, a delegate to the Virginia Assembly representing Fauquier County, where O’Bannon was born, proposed that Virginia honor O’Bannon with “… a handsome sword with such appropriate devices thereon as they may think proper.”  Mr. Love’s proposal sailed through both houses of the state legislature.  In January 1806, the governor presented the measure to the Council of State, which named a committee to select an appropriate design for the sword.

Six months later, the committee submitted its proposal to Major John Clarke, Superintendent of the Virginia Manufactory of Arms, Richmond.  The sword design was elaborate with, among other things, the head of a bearded and turbaned Moslem for a pommel and an engraving on the hilt of O’Bannon raising the flag over Derna.  Major Clarke had only just finished the blade in 1809 when he was replaced as superintendent by Mr. John Carter of Richmond.  Carter completed the sword in July 1810.

Meanwhile, Captain O’Bannon had resigned his commission, married Matilda Heard in Frederick County, Virginia, in 1809, and relocated to Kentucky in the same year.  O’Bannon didn’t receive the Virginia sword until the fall of 1812.[7]

At the time of Captain O’Bannon’s death, he was living in the home of his cousin John O’Bannon, in Henry County, Kentucky.  He also died without a will.  It wasn’t until an article about Captain O’Bannon appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal in 1917, written by John Presley Cain (a collateral descendant of O’Bannon), that the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) began looking into the O’Bannon story.  Mr. Cain, having revealed O’Bannon’s burial place on a farm just outside Pleasureville, Kentucky, prompted the DAR to seek the permission of his descendants to move his remains to the Frankfort Cemetery.  O’Bannon was reinterred there on 14 June 1920.

At the ceremony, Miss Margaret Mosely (Kansas City), a third-great niece of O’Bannon, brought the Virginia Sword and had it displayed unsheathed and crossed with its scabbard on top of the gravestone.  In 1941, Mrs. Margaret Mosley-Culver donated the Virginia Sword to the U.S. Marine Corps Museum.  To add to the confusion, the Virginia Sword has been variously described as a Mameluke Sword, which it is not.  It more closely resembles a U.S. Army infantry officer’s sword.

There is also some myth associated with Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Archibald Henderson’s decision to prescribe the Mameluke Sword for wear by Marine Corps officers.  After the U.S. Congress disbanded the Continental Navy and Marine Corps at the end of the Revolutionary War, the only military secretary was the Secretary of War until 1798, when Congress re-established the Navy Department.  During those “in-between” years, uniform regulations fell under the purview of the Secretary of War.  It wasn’t until 1804 that the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Robert Smith, authorized “yellow-mounted sabers with gilt scabbards” for Marine Corps officers.  The wording of the regulation allowed Marine officers to wear just about any sword that met that vague description.

Why Henderson prescribed the Mameluke Sword remains a mystery.  Part of the legend is that O’Bannon and Henderson had (at some point) served together and that Henderson so admired O’Bannon that he prescribed the Mameluke Sword for all Marine Corps officers.  It is an interesting story, but according to General Simmons, unlikely.  If the two men ever met, it was probably a brief encounter.  Henderson did not enter Marine Corps service until 1806; O’Bannon resigned in 1807.

In any case, Henderson’s uniform regulations of 26 April 1825 prescribed the officer’s sword as follows: “All officers when on duty either in full or undress uniform, shall wear a plain brass scabbard sword or saber, with a Mameluke hilt of white ivory and a gold tassel; extreme length of the sword three-feet, one-inch only to serve as a cut and thrust — the hilt in length four-inches and three-quarters, width of scabbard one-inch and seven-eighths, width of blade one-inch.”  This, according to General Simmons, describes Henderson’s own sword exactly.

Between 900-1250 A.D., Egyptian dynasties included several ethnic/cultural groups, such as the Ikhshidids, Fatimids, and Ayyubids.  They were primarily served and guarded by Mamelukes, individuals of Turkic, Caucasian, Eastern, and Southeastern European origin.  The Mameluke was both free-born warriors and indentured fighters — a class of Egyptian knights whose influence increased within the Moslem hierarchy.  The increase in political influence was worrisome to the Ayyubids, as it should have been.  One Moslem historian describes the origin of the Mameluke as “enslaved Christians.”  Accordingly, Moslems looked upon the Mameluke as “infidels,” or unbelievers who refused to surrender to the will of Allah.

In 1250, a Mameluke became Sultan of Egypt, and his heirs ruled Egypt through 1517.  But even when Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, Mamelukes maintained a considerable hold over the sultanate.  The word Mameluke in Arabic, by the way, means “one who is owned.”  It refers to non-Arab people “enslaved” to Moslem rulers.  Their reputation as fighters (and their uniforms) impressed Napoleon and his marshals.[8]  The French recruited Mamelukes as personal guards and adopted their swords, which, as we can see today, are displayed in numerous paintings of high French officers — such as Lieutenant General Jean-Baptiste Antoine Marcelin Marbot.

The sword’s earliest form was a light horseman’s weapon intended for slashing.  When the British manufacturer Wilkinson Swords straightened the blade, they ruined the sword as a weapon, which may no longer matter to anyone since the sword is no longer the first choice in offensive or defensive weapons.

In 1859, Marine First Lieutenant Israel Green commanded a Marine Detachment with service under Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, who was ordered to put down an insurrection at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia.  As it turned out, Colonel Lee was quite pleased with the Marines’ performance at Harper’s Ferry, but Lieutenant Green was considerably less satisfied with his Mameluke Sword.  On cue from a young cavalry lieutenant named James Ewell Brown Stuart, Green rushed John Brown and his men in the firehouse.  Green burst through the door and cut down on the older man’s neck as hard as possible, which bent the sword almost double and did little more than irritate Mr. Brown.  That would not have happened with an M1911A1 at 10 yards.

The Marine Corps prescribed a different sword for officers and NCOs in that same year — one that would cut something more resistant than a birthday cake.

Endnotes:

[1] The difference between swords and sabers is that swords are straight blade weapons, while sabers are (generally) shorter in blade length and curved. 

[2] The cutlass was a relatively short-bladed slashing sword — the shorter length most suitable for shipboard action.

[3] The Mameluke Sword (style) is also worn by flag rank officers in the British Army, and for officers of major general rank in the Australian Army.

[4] Brigadier General Edwin H. Simmons (1921-2007) served with distinction in three wars, later serving as the Director, Marine Corps History and Museums, both on active duty and into retirement.  He authored numerous books about the History of the Marine Corps; whatever General Simmons didn’t know about the Marine Corps probably isn’t worth knowing.

[5] Yusef no doubt felt confident that this insult would go unanswered because the U.S. Congress had been paying the Qaramanli family bribes for fifteen or so years; anyone who pays bribes deserves no respect — or so he thought.

[6] At the time, Egypt was a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire.  Kourshek Ahmet Pasha was the Viceroy of Egypt.

[7] Presley and Matilda’s union was, according to sketchy accounts, not a very happy one.  The O’Bannon’s were divorced in 1826, remarried in 1832, and then in 1843, Matilda was committed to an insane asylum in Lexington.  Captain O’Bannon passed away in 1850.  Their only child died of cholera in 1835.  My guess is that if O’Bannon left the Marine Corps to marry Matilda, he later in life regretted doing so. 

[8] There is evidence of Mameluke Swords in use by Europeans during the Crusades, likely taken from dead Islamists.  General Simmons believed that the Mameluke Sword may have existed before the time of Christ, notably in Damascus.


Inglorious

Introduction

On 15 April 1861, two days after South Carolina militia bombarded Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring an insurrection against the laws of the United States.  In total, there were only 15,000 men in U. S. Army uniform —  hardly enough men to impose Lincoln’s will on eight seceding states, so to suppress the Confederacy and restore federal authority, Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers for 90-days service.  Apparently, Mr. Lincoln was thinking that forcing southern states into compliance would be an abbreviated affair.  He later accepted the voluntary service of 40,000 additional troops with three-year enlistments.  These combined actions increased the strength of the Army to around 200,000.  Whether prudent, Mr. Lincoln’s actions prompted four other states to secede.

In the North

During April, thousands of bright-eyed, excited, adventurous young men streamed into the nation’s capital to join the fight and defend the nation’s capital.  The Army’s General-in-Chief was Lieutenant General Winfield Scott.  His plan for suppressing the rebels was to send an army of 80,000 men down the Mississippi River and capture New Orleans.  As the Army strangled the southern economy, the Navy would blockade all Southern ports along the eastern United States and western Gulf Coast of Florida.  The press was not particularly kind to General Scott or his scheme of maneuver.

In July 1861, thousands of young men were wearing army uniforms and encamped at various locations around the city of Washington.  With members of the press and politicians wagging their tongues daily, political pressure was building for Mr. Lincoln to do something.  Lincoln’s problem was that his Army Commanding General was 75-years-old.  Who would lead these young men into battle?  The president’s ultimate selection was both political and expedient.

Irvin McDowell was a graduate of the United States Military Academy, class of 1838.  McDowell was a competent staff officer with limited command experience.  In April 1861, McDowell was an Army major assigned to the office of the Adjutant General.  In less than a month, McDowell advanced from Major to brigadier general.  The staff officer suddenly found himself in command of the Military Department of Northeast Virginia and Army of Northern Virginia — on paper, around 35,000 men organized into five infantry divisions.  No one knew better than McDowell that he was entirely out of his depth.

Politics ruled the day, however.  With everyone clamoring for Lincoln to do something, he did.  He placed 35,000 men in uniform.  There was no time for much combat training, of course, and McDowell was at least smart enough to realize that this was a problem.  After voicing his concerns to Lincoln, the president told McDowell, “You are green, but they are green also; you are all green alike.” One can only imagine what McDowell was thinking about that sage advice.  But McDowell was more than out of his depth as a field commander.  Thanks to Confederate spy/socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow, the Confederacy had a copy of McDowell’s battle plan for Manassas.

In any case, Brigadier General McDowell’s battle plan was exceedingly ambitious.  He intended to make a diversionary attack with two divisions, send a third against the Confederate flank, cut off the railway line to Richmond, push the rebels out of Manassas and save the city of Washington.  After reading McDowell’s battle plan, Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard, commanding the Alexandria Line, must have laughed.  McDowell couldn’t have accomplished that even with an experienced army.  He would be facing around 24,000 Confederate and state militia.

In The South

In 1861, Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnson served as Quartermaster General of the U. S. Army.  When his home state seceded from the Union, Johnson resigned his commission and returned to Virginia.  Initially, Virginia officials offered Johnson a commission as a major general in the state militia but later rescinded it and instead offered him a commission as a brigadier general.  Virginia only needed one major general, and they preferred Robert E. Lee to Johnson.  Johnson’s problem was that in the Union Army, he was a brigadier general, while Lee was only a colonel.  Seniority matters, so, rather than serving under someone junior in rank, Johnson accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army.

Johnson was a talented officer with considerable experience throughout his tenure in the U. S. Army, but there was between him and Confederate President Jefferson Davis a strained relationship.  Initially, Davis appointed Brigadier General Johnson to relieve Colonel Thomas J.  Jackson of his command at Harpers Ferry; he later ordered Johnson to assume command of the Army of Shenandoah.  In this capacity, Johnson would be in a position to support Brigadier General Beauregard at Manassas.

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard (also known as P. G T. Beauregard) was the brother-in-law of John Slidell, a lawyer, politician, and businessman.  Slidell previously served as U. S. Minister to Mexico (1844-45).  In January 1861, the War Department appointed Beauregard to serve as Superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point.  Five days later, Louisiana seceded from the Union, and the War Department revoked Beauregard’s appointment.  Beauregard vigorously protested such treatment and soon after resigned from the U. S. Army and returned to his home in Louisiana.  Beauregard anticipated that the governor of Louisiana would offer him command of the state militia, but that position was instead offered to and accepted by General Braxton Bragg.  Bragg offered Beauregard a colonelcy, but there was an issue of pride once again, and Beauregard instead enlisted as a private in the Orleans Guards.

Again, President Davis came to the rescue and, on 1 March 1861, appointed Beauregard a Brigadier General and placed him in command of the defenses at Charleston, South Carolina.  Beauregard was the first general officer appointment of the Confederacy, but the process of general officer appointments was haphazard.  In a few months, Beauregard would become a full (four-star) general, one of only seven promoted to that rank, but he would end up junior to four others: Samuel Cooper, Albert S. Johnson, Robert E. Lee, and Joseph E. Johnson.

On 12 April, Beauregard ordered the commencement of hostilities with Fort Sumter, a bombardment lasting 34 hours.  President Davis later summoned Beauregard to Richmond for a new assignment.  He would assume command of the Alexandria Line.[1]  Beauregard immediately began planning for the defense of Manassas, including a concentration of forces along with those of General Johnson at Harpers Ferry.  Johnson was senior to Beauregard, but he was unfamiliar with the Manassas area and ceded tactical planning to Beauregard.  President Davis had great confidence in Beauregard as a field commander, but less with his ability as an operational planner.  Beauregard tended to formulate overly complicated schemes of maneuver without due consideration for logistics, intelligence, and political realities.

Bull Run

There is nothing particularly glorious about battle except, perhaps, in the minds of those who’ve never experienced it.  When the fighting is finally over, there is, of course, deep gratitude among survivors, and a peculiar bonding takes place among those survivors — for a little while — until everyone returns home and the nightmares and guilt arrive.  The guilt isn’t reflective of what combatants had to do in combat.  It’s for having the audacity (or luck) of living through it.  Many of their friends didn’t.

No doubt, the young men of both armies, whether officer or enlisted, had similar thoughts.  Aside from the excitement of a great undertaking, no doubt caused by increased adrenalin, there was also fear — a fear so palpable, one can smell it. Ordinary people fear death, of course, but what concerned these youngsters most was the prospect that fear would paralyze them.  Fear is a powerful thing — no one wants to be a coward.  Youngsters worry about such things.  They fear that in an unannounced split second when it occurs to them that running away offers life and remaining behind guarantees death, they will choose to run away.  A reasonable person will conclude that remaining behind in a fight that they’re losing is an irrational response to utter chaos — but there is nothing rational about combat, and adrenalin is an equally powerful antidote.

Two untrained armies began moving toward one another in mid-July 1861.  Oh, they may have had enough training to know how to line up, and maybe even how to wheel right or left, but they didn’t know (or trust) their officers, they barely knew their NCOs, and they may not have known the name of the man standing next to them.  The bonding process among combatants had yet to take hold.  It was a time when there was no leadership — only followership.  How the man standing next to them reacted to gunfire or exploding artillery influenced how they, themselves, responded to such trauma.  Watching someone running to the rear was a powerful incentive to join him — and so too was witnessing the decapitation of the next man in line.  Panic in the ranks can arrive as fast as flood water, and no one is immune to its effects without intense training and prior experience on the line.

The morning of 16 July began shaping up as a genuine goat-rope; it only got worse as the day progressed.  Formed regiments milled around along the roads while their officers tried to organize them into a line of march, and the men waited patiently while their officers and NCOs struggled to figure it out.  Hurry up and wait is an American military tradition.

After hours of fumbling about, General McDowell finally led his army out of Washington.  It was the largest army ever formed on the North American continent —  around 28,000 men (18,000 infantry) present.  Army commanders mustered everyone they could get their hands on — even Marines.

With pressure from the War Department to bolster McDowell’s army, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells ordered the Commandant of the Marine Corps to form a battalion of “disposable” Marines for duty in the field.  In 1861, U. S. Marines were seagoing infantry; they were not trained for field duty.  Major John G. Reynolds assumed command of the Marine battalion and reported to McDowell.  None of the Marines had any field equipment — all of them were raw recruits.  The best they could do in the upcoming fight was to help resupply artillery units with powder and shot.

McDowell hoped to have his army at Centerville by 17 July, but the troops were unaccustomed to marching long distances.  The distance from Washington to Manassas was 30 miles.  En route, formations would bunch up along the road, stop, wait, and start again.  Some soldiers, bored with the walk (it was hardly a march), would break formation to wander off into an orchard to rest and pick apples from the trees.  They were an undisciplined lot and largely ignored the orders of their officers and NCOs to “get back in ranks.”

On 17 July, Beauregard encamped his army near Manassas — the men busily preparing their defenses along the south bank of Bull Run.  His left flank, under Brigadier General Evans, blocked the stone bridge.  General McDowell was initially confident that he would overwhelm a numerically inferior enemy and equally optimistic that Brigadier General Robert Patterson, whose orders were to engage General Johnson’s Army of the Shenandoah, would prevent Johnson from reinforcing Beauregard.

Weather and climate are among the more critical factors of warfare because it affects both strategy and tactics. July in Northern Virginia is hot and humid, and that’s what it was on 21 July 1861. Rain-swollen rivers impede the flow of troops and supplies.  Muddy roads bring everything to a halt.  Rain prevents muskets from firing — which often necessitated bayonets and hand-to-hand combat.  Wind and rain made everyone miserable.  The exposure to the elements made people sick.  Heat and humidity cause heat casualties.  In short, weather can be a war stopper.

By the time McDowell reached Manassas, he was under a great deal of stress.  The ninety-day enlistments of several regiments were about to expire.  He also received word from Patterson that General Johnson had slipped out of the Shenandoah Valley.  If true, McDowell would face 34,000 rebels rather than 22,000.  On the morning of 22 July, two of McDowell’s commands, their enlistments having expired, left the field.  Despite his pleadings, the soldiers had no interest in remaining on the field.  In McDowell’s mind, time was running out.  He began making rash decisions.  He was starting to panic, and his subordinate commander’s lost confidence in his leadership.

By the time the shooting started, Beauregard’s and Johnson’s armies were tied in with one another, and more reinforcements were on the way.  McDowell received a string of faulty intelligence.

The Battle

The Union forces began their day at 02:30 when two divisions under Hunter and Heintzelman (12,000 men) marched from Centerville toward Sudley Springs.  General Tyler’s division (8,000 men) marched toward Stone Bridge.  In many places, the road approach to Sudley Springs was inadequate for so many men, artillery, and supply wagons in many places being no more than rutted footpaths.  The Union advance slowed to a crawl.  Fording Bull Run did not begin until 09:30, and the Union advance was no surprise to the Confederates.  When the two forces finally engaged that morning, it was more of an exercise in maneuver warfare than frontal assault or envelopment.  McDowell’s commanders struggled to get their men in position.

However, when the Union forces finally did strike the Confederate line, the rebel line collapsed, sending inexperienced boys into a panicked retreat.  The Union might have pursued them were it not for the exceptional artillery support from men like Captain John D. Imboden.  McDowell’s failure to press his advantage gave the Confederates time to reform their line.

At this time, Brigadier General Thomas J. Jackson’s Virginia Brigade came forward in support of the re-organizing Confederate defense.  Jackson, accompanied by J. E. B. Stuart’s cavalry and Wade Hampton’s Legion, quickly set up a defensive line along the Henry House Hill ridgeline.  Hampton’s Legion thoroughly decimated the New York 79th, whose troops began a helter-skelter retreat.  The only Union soldier from the NY 79th who advanced under Hampton’s withering fire was Colonel James Cameron, the regimental commander.[2]  As Cameron advanced, his men abandoned him and ran to the rear.   Cameron was soon killed.

To shield his men from the Union’s direct fire, Jackson posted his five regiments on the reverse slope of Henry House Hill.  Jackson then placed thirteen artillery pieces to best defend the line, all out of sight of the Union troops.  The Confederate’s smooth-bore guns gave them an advantage over the Union artillery’s rifled guns because the Union guns were too close to their enemy’s positions and fired their more powerful pieces over the heads of the Confederate troops.[3]

Stonewall Jackson

When Confederate Brigadier General Barnard E. Bee (Commanding 3rd Brigade) complained to Jackson that the Union was driving them (forcing them back), Jackson calmly replied, “Then, sir, we will give them the bayonet.”  Bee then returned to his brigade and exhorted them, “There [pointing] is Jackson standing like a stone wall.  Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer.  Let us rally behind the Virginians!”   

It was Jackson’s refusal to yield the line that gave him the nickname Stonewall Jackson.  Afterward, Jackson’s brigade launched a crushing assault against the Union line, capturing Union artillery and quickly sending hundreds of Union soldiers to the rear.  Jackson’s brigade devastated these troops with fire and bayonet.  Still, nothing spooked the Yankees more than the rebel yell, which Jackson (a college professor at the Virginia Military Institute) knew it would.  It was the first time Union troops heard the rebel yell, but it would not be the last time.  It was this daring assault that changed the course of the Battle of Bull Run.

At about 16:00, two Confederate Brigades (Early’s and Smith’s) assaulted Howard’s Union Brigade on Chinn Ridge and pushed it off the hill, delivering devastating casualties.  It was not long before the young boys dressed in Union uniforms decided to live another day.

McDowell’s decision to withdraw was anything but orderly.  Rather than controlling their men and easing their panic, Union officers were running foot races with their soldiers to see who could get back to the city of Washington first.  McDowell ordered Miles’ division to form a rearguard, but those troops were only interested in protecting themselves.  McDowell’s army didn’t rally until they reached the outskirts of Washington.  To President Davis’ great dismay, neither Johnson nor Beauregard pressed their advantage on the retreating Union.[4]  Had they done so, Washington might have fallen to the Confederates at the beginning of the war.

That evening, President Lincoln received his much-awaited report on the battle of Manassas, but it wasn’t what he was hoping to hear.  The message, in abbreviated form, was: “The day is lost.  Save Washington.”

Conclusion

This is the story of two numerically powerful armies, both untrained, both (for the most part) poorly led, and both leaving behind a large number of casualties.  McDowell lost 2,708 men (481 killed, 1,011 wounded, and 1,216 missing).  Generals Johnson and Beauregard lost 1,982 men (387 killed, 1,582 wounded, 13 missing).  On the morning of 21 July 1861, the ranks of both armies contained young boys who were excited beyond measure and full of vinegar.  At the end of the day, some of those boys were broken, discouraged, or dead.  In one single day, the survivors had learned all they would ever need to know about combat.  It would never get any better, but it would get worse.  Whether north or south, everyone who fought that day knew that this one battle was only the beginning of unspeakable carnage.

There would be a second battle at Manassas — in about a year.

Sources:

  1. Alexander, E. P.  Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander.  Gary W. Gallagher, ed.  University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
  2. Beatie, R. H.  Army of the Potomac: Birth of Command, November 1860-September 1861.  Da Capo Press, 2002.
  3. Detzer, D.  Donnybrook: The Battle of Bull Run, 1861.  Simon & Schuster, 2001.
  4. Longstreet, J.  From Manassas to Appomattox: Memoirs of the Civil War in America.  Da Capo Press, 1992.

Endnotes:

[1] The Orange and Alexandria Railroad linked markets in northern and central Virginia.  Construction of the railroad began in 1850 and extended to Manassas and Gordonsville in 1851 and 1853.  It was a primary communication route between Richmond and northern Virginia.  The Alexandria Line became a strategic prize coveted by both Union and Confederate forces at Manassas, Bristoe Station, and Brandy Station.

[2] Brother of U. S. Secretary of War Simon Cameron.

[3] One casualty of the Union artillery was 89-year-old Judith Carter, an invalid, who was confined to her bed inside Henry House.  Miss Carter was killed when Union artillery targeted the house, thinking that rebel snipers were shooting from upstairs windows.

[4] Jefferson Davis observed the fight from the battlefield, arriving at around 15:00 that afternoon.  


Leadership, Moral Courage, and Duty

Recently, a number of bloggers and pundits have brought into question certain decisions and actions of our senior military leaders.  Bloggers are by now famous for basing their opinions on something other than a complete understanding of how the military works, which is further complicated because some commenters offer their views without knowing all the facts.

For example, while it is true that the President is the Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces, the President does not become involved in every situation that challenges our joint/unified commanders.  A drone attack against suspected Taliban targets would not have warranted presidential involvement, but it may take the president’s authorization to bomb targets in Syria.  There are different protocols for a wide range of situations.

Additionally, political biases too often drive a pundit’s opinions.  It is a situation begging for intellectual dishonesty, and it does nothing to enhance the average citizen’s understanding of events in far-off lands.  If we criticize our senior military leaders, we must base our reproach on what transpires rather than what we think might have happened.

Still, there remains a question about the politicization of our Armed Forces, particularly among our flag officers (generals and admirals, one through four-star officers).  Are they knuckling under to the inexperienced (and often, incredibly flawed) dictates of civilian leadership to achieve promotion and plum assignments?   There is some justification for this concern, particularly in the argument that senior officers have acquiesced to demands for social engineering as a priority over the prime directive, which is the combat readiness of our armed forces and their operational efficiency.

There is nothing I can write that would be an improvement over the speech delivered by Douglas MacArthur at the U. S. Military Academy on 12 May 1962.  General MacArthur’s wise counsel follows sixty-one years of active service.  He had been retired only eleven years when he gave his address.  In my view, MacArthur’s remarks offer a clear view of what our senior-most military officers ought to be, how they should govern themselves while wearing the uniform of an active-duty officer, and how they should behave once retired.  But it is also my view that General MacArthur spoke to all military leaders, from the most junior non-commissioned officer to the highest-ranking commissioned officer.  Thus, the following words apply as much to leaders today as they did on the day of General MacArthur’s retirement.

General of the Army Douglas A. MacArthur

Sylvanus Thayer Award Acceptance Speech

12 May 1962

____________

General Westmoreland, General Grove, distinguished guests, and gentlemen of the Corps!

As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, “Where are you bound for, General?” And when I replied, “West Point,” he remarked, “Beautiful place. Have you ever been there before?”

No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as this [Thayer Award].  Coming from a profession I have served so long, and a people I have loved so well, it fills me with an emotion I cannot express.  But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code — the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent.  That is the animation of this medallion.  For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier.  That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride and yet of humility which will be with me always.

Duty, Honor, Country

Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be.  They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.

The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase.  Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.

But these are some of the things they do: They build your basic character.  They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense.  They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.  They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over the love of ease.  They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what is next, and the joy and inspiration of life.  They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.

And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead?  Are they reliable?  Are they brave?  Are they capable of victory?  Their story is known to all of you.  It is the story of the American man-at-arms.  My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed.  I regarded him then as I regard him now — as one of the world’s noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters but also as one of the most stainless.  His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen.  In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.

He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man.  He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy’s breast.  But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words.  He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism.  He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom.  He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements.  In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people.  From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage.

As I listened to those [old] songs, in memory’s eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs, on many a weary march from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle-deep through the mire of shell-shocked roads, to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.

I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death.  They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always, for them: Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth.

And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts; those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms; the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails; the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished; the deadly pestilence of tropical disease; the horror of stricken areas of war; their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory — always victory.  Always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men reverently following your password: Duty, Honor, Country.

The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind.  Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are for the things that are wrong.

The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training — sacrifice.

In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image.  No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.

However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.

You now face a new world — a world of change.  The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres, and missiles mark the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind. In the five or more billions of years, the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a more abrupt or staggering evolution.  We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe.  We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier.

We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy; of making winds and tides work for us; of creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify seawater for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of space ships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.

And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars.

Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication.  All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment.  But you are the ones who are trained to fight.  Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed; that the very obsession of your public service must be: Duty, Honor, Country.

Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men’s minds; but serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation’s war guardian, as its lifeguard from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiator in the arena of battle.  For a century and a half, you have defended, guarded, and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice.

Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be.  These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution.  Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.

You are the leaven that binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense.  From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation’s destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds.  The Long Gray Line has never failed us.  Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.

This does not mean that you are warmongers.

On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

The shadows are lengthening for me.  The twilight is here.  My days of old have vanished, tone and tint.  They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were.  Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday.  I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll.  In my dreams, I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.

But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point.  Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.

Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps.

I bid you farewell.

____________

These words, so eloquently delivered, must serve as our guide in determining the worthiness of our military leaders.  Duty, Honor, Country.  Even though we all recognize that civilian leadership must control the military, there is no obligation for any soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine to obey an illegal order or directive or any inherently inept order that could lead to a battlefield disaster.  No individual can fulfill his duty who does not have unshakeable integrity.  As officers and NCOs, our integrity demands that we place the good of our nation and those entrusted into our care ahead of personal comfort or advancement.  As General MacArthur said in 1951, our integrity will lead us to perform our duty as God gives us the light to see that duty.

There are consequences to performing one’s duty, of course.  One’s superiors may not agree with a leader’s decision — censure is always possible. Still, if we have relied upon our best judgment deciding, that is all anyone can ask of another.  Every leader must prepare to refuse an order, especially an illegal directive, particularly a foolish order.  “No, sir, I will not execute that order.  Here is my resignation.” If we do not have principled senior officers or our flag officers lack the moral courage to resist political pressure opposing a “proper” decision, then there is something substantially wrong with the process we employ in choosing our senior-most officers.  Every American military leader must realize that a bended knee is not one of our time-honored traditions.

At Penobscot

The first colonial resolution for creating a naval force came from Rhode Island on 12 June 1775.  One old saying is that “necessity is the mother of invention.”  Not that a navy was a new idea, but rather the realization that if the colonies intended to make good on their declaration of independence, they would need freedom of navigation and stout defense of the colony’s long coastline to do it.  Rhode Island took this initiative because the Royal Navy’s harassment costs to that colony’s shipping were high.  Two months later, Rhode Island proposed a single Continental Fleet (funded by all thirteen colonies, of course).

In October 1775, Congress passed a resolution creating the Continental Navy.  It would take something more than a piece of paper to build an adequate navy, of course, and the fact is that the Continental Navy had a somewhat rough beginning.  But by the early part of 1779, America’s naval effort against British shipping had a favorable impact.  Privateers, particularly those working the Atlantic between New York and Nova Scotia, had become exceptionally proficient in intercepting and assaulting British cargo vessels — so well, in fact, that by the spring, the Royal Navy began escorting convoys of cargo ships to North America.

The downside of the British convoy system was that it siphoned off Royal Navy ships from other tasks.  Moreover, the activities of American privateers forced the British to develop the strategy of taking shelter in protected anchorages near active sea lanes — places from which they could dispatch patrols against American raiders.  The coast of Maine was especially useful in this regard because of its many estuaries, because the region contained a large number of British loyalists, and because the forested areas in Maine were a primary source of timber for American shipbuilding.[1]

General Sir Henry Clinton, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in the colonies, instructed the commander of British forces in Nova Scotia, Brigadier General Francis McLean, to establish a fortification on the Penobscot River — one capable of housing 400-500 men, with a magazine.  Beyond the construction of a fortification, Clinton also instructed McLean to offer land grants to local inhabitants in exchange for their oath of loyalty to the British Crown.  McLean’s regiment would consist of 400 men from the 74th Regiment of Foot (Argyle Highlanders) and another 100 men from the King’s Orange Rangers (a loyalist regiment in New Jersey).[2]

In May 1779, General McLean decided to enlarge his force to 640 men.  Four-hundred forty of these would come from the 74th Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell, and, since the King’s Orange Rangers could not provide an additional 100 men, McLean decided to excuse the rangers from service and replace them with 200 men from his own regiment, the 82nd.

General McLean’s convoy departed Halifax on 30 May escorted by HMS Blonde, HMS North, HMS Nautilus, HMS Albany, and HMS Hope.  Pathfinders reconnoitered the banks of the Penobscot River in mid-June to find a suitable site for the fort.  McLean decided on a peninsula that extends into the bay from the eastern shore known as Bagaduce.  At the time of McLean’s arrival at Bagaduce, the land was covered by an evergreen forest of fir and pine.  A protected bay opened to the South.  For his building site, the General chose an elevated plateau near the middle of the peninsula.  From that position, McLean’s cannon could command access to the bay.  A thick forest obscured the river (western side) of the arm.

Once General McLean’s force and supplies had been off-loaded, he anticipated that Captain Andrew Barkley, commanding the flotilla, would leave several ships at anchor in the bay.  Barkley, however, intended to withdraw all his ships except HMS Albany (under Captain Henry Mowat).  An argument ensued between Barkley and McLean, which was only resolved when Barkley became aware that several American frigates operated off the coast of Halifax.  Without Barkley’s flotilla, Halifax was virtually at the mercy of the American navy.  Eventually, Captain Barkley permitted HMS Albany, HMS North, and HMS Nautilus to remain behind at Bagaduce along with McLean’s transport ships.

American rebels quickly learned of McLean’s landing.  One rumor warned that General McLean commanded 1,500 men.  Brigadier General Charles Cushing of the Massachusetts militia suggested that several county militias might be required to disengage McLean.  Rebel spies kept the Council of Massachusetts regularly informed of McLean’s activities.[3]  With so much reliance upon the sea for its economic welfare, it would only be a matter of time before the Americans challenged the British in Nova Scotia.

The alarmed Council of Massachusetts wasted no time in making an appeal to the Congressional Navy Board for their assistance in removing the British threat.  The Navy Board advised its Marine Committee of these circumstances and tendered its recommendation that Congress order its ships to address this new British threat.

Money was tight in 1779.  Even before the Marine Committee could formulate its reply, the Navy Board sent a letter back to the Massachusetts Council informing them that the Navy Board concurred with any “proper measures” Massachusetts may undertake to dislodge the enemy from Penobscot.  Apparently, without saying as much, the Continental Congress thought it would be great if Massachusetts paid for the operation.  Congress did offer them the services of Captain Dudley Saltonstall and four Continental Navy ships to achieve the ouster of the British garrison at Penobscot, however.

As a senior Continental Navy officer, Saltonstall would serve as commodore of Continental and Massachusetts ships.[4]   Preparation for the sea began aboard the sloops Warren, Providence, and Brige.  Taking a ship to sea in 1779 was difficult because recruiting experienced crews was nearly impossible.  Experienced sailors preferred to serve aboard privateers where the pay was better and sea passages much safer.

On 29 June 1779, the Council of Massachusetts formed a small committee whose task was to direct the province of New Hampshire to raise a militia.  The Council of New Hampshire agreed to send a 20-gun privateer, the HampdenHampden was armed with six and 9-pound cannon and carried a complement of 130 men.  In addition to Hampden and the four Continental ships, the American flotilla would include three vessels of the Massachusetts Navy, twelve privateers paid for by Massachusetts, and several merchant ships hired to carry supplies from Boston and militia from York Lincoln, and Cumberland counties.

In addition to Continental Marines serving aboard Captain Saltonstall’s ships, the plan for the Penobscot Expedition included 1,500 militia recruited from Maine’s three southern-most counties.  Unfortunately, it was no easier to recruit soldiers than it was sailors and Maine recruiters fell short of their quota by around six hundred men.

The solution to Maine’s shortage of volunteers was conscription, which netted mostly young boys, invalids, and elderly men.  Without waiting for a second draft effort, Maine’s Adjutant General marched his 433 men to a rendezvous at Townsend (present-day Boothbay Harbor).  The number of men drafted from York and Lincoln was also disappointing.  At Townsend, militia Brigadier General Solomon Lovell, the designated commander of land forces, could only muster 873 men.

There was no time to train these men.  The Council of Massachusetts wanted to assault Bagaduce before the British could complete the construction of their fort.  General Lovell opted to take his small force ahead to Bagaduce while a call for more men went out to adjacent colonies.  If mustered, these additional men would proceed to Bagaduce as soon as possible; if not, then Lovell would have to make do with what he had.

Small groups of transport ships and privateers rendezvoused in Nantasket Roads during mid-July.  Given the primitive communications of the day, one wonders how long a ship’s captain would wait around for something to happen before losing interest. Still, by 23 July, all naval units were anchored off Townsend, and militia began boarding their transports.

Captain Saltonstall’s flotilla set sail on 24 July.  He had earlier sent Tyrannicide and Hazard ahead to scout for British ships.  A short distance into the Bay, Captain Williams of the Hazard dispatched Marine Second Lieutenant William Cunningham ashore to find local inhabitants who might provide valuable intelligence about enemy activities.  We do not know the details of Cunningham’s scouting party; we only know that he returned with three men.

After Saltonstall arrived in Penobscot Bay on 25 July, Captain Williams dispatched Cunningham and his men to the flagship Warren to brief Commodore Saltonstall on what they’d learned.  Meanwhile, through other sources, Saltonstall learned of the presence in nearby Camden of Mr. James Mills Mitchell, a man reputedly familiar with the area where the British fort was under construction.  We know Saltonstall conferred with Mitchell; we simply do not know what they discussed.

After that, Captain Saltonstall ordered Lieutenant Brown, commanding Diligent, to reconnoiter the riverbank near Bagaduce.  While performing this mission, Brown observed three men waving from shore to gain his attention.  One of the three men reported that he had observed British activities and estimated the number of soldiers between 450-500.  He said that the fort was not quite half-completed.  Brown sent these men along to Warren, where they made their report to Captain Saltonstall.  Lieutenant Brown had no personal knowledge of McLean’s dispositions or activities, but that didn’t prevent him from advising Saltonstall to prepare for an immediate attack.  In Brown’s opinion, the fort could be “easily taken.”

Commodore Saltonstall was not easily persuaded.  He remarked to Brown, “Only a madman would go in before they had reconnoitered, and it would be the height of madness even to attempt it.”  Saltonstall was wisely prudent because nothing of what had been reported to him had any basis in fact.  Saltonstall, for example, was told that the fort’s walls were barely three feet high when the fortification was much further along.

General McLean had either co-opted local inhabitants or pressed them into labor parties to strengthen the fort. He had mounted his cannon to support his infantry, the defensive lines had been closed, and his construction included chevaux-de-frise defensive works.[5]  His shore battery firing positions had been raised to allow for firing in barbette. McLean had also stripped the cannon from the starboard side of British vessels (they were arranged in line with the port side outward), placing these cannons at various sites ashore.

In preparation for the American assault, General Lovell directed Marines and militia to probe the British line. Undercover of naval artillery from Hazard, Tyrannicide, and Sally, Lovell ordered the landing force ashore on Sunday, 25 July (the first day of hostilities).  Seven American boats were able to approach the shore, but strong winds produced a severe chop in bay waters, preventing most boats from reaching shore.  Seven boats did approach the beach, but intense British fire turned them back. Irregular cannonades were exchanged with minor damage to either side. Lovell canceled the attack.

The sporadic naval fire was again exchanged throughout the day on 26 July, with minor damage to either side. Still, the action did cause the British to re-position their ships further up into the harbor to tighten their defensive line.

At 18:00 on Monday, Captain Saltonstall dispatched Marine Captain John Walsh to Banks Island, where the British had established several cannon positions.  Walsh secured his objective, but with no further orders, he set up defensive positions on the island and ordered his Marines to begin constructing field cannon positions from which the Americans might fire on British ships and land positions.  Walsh’s landing forced the British ships to once again re-position themselves.

While Walsh led his Marines to Banks Island, Major Daniel Littlefield, commanding militia, led an assault force to seize a British position near the entrance to the Bagaduce River.  While approaching the shore, a shot from British cannon landed in Littlefield’s boat, killing him and three others.  General Lovell detailed a third force of men to go ashore and begin constructing a siege position.  The Americans were under constant British fire throughout their effort to develop a foothold.

On Tuesday evening, a substantial disagreement developed between General Lovell, his deputy, Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth,[6] Captain Saltonstall, and a few more senior naval commanders.  Militia officers favored a vigorous naval assault against the British vessels in the harbor.  If these ships could be destroyed, they argued, the land campaign would be more easily started and more likely of success on the harbor side of the peninsula.  Navy officers, including Saltonstall, argued that the army and Marines should first land and overrun the fort; this would allow the American fleet to “safely destroy the British vessels.”  Overrunning the fort would be easier said than done given the precipitous cliffs fronting the fort.  Further complicating the discord between the naval and land commanders, several privateer captains grew impatient and circulated a petition urging Saltonstall to proceed with this operation without further delay.[7]

At this council of war, which was held aboard Warren, the Americans decided to proceed with their assault on Bagaduce.  The landing force consisted of around 850 militia and 227 Marines.  Eighty cannoneers served under Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere.

Saltonstall directed that preparations for the assault begin at midnight, which achieved little more than deprive the men of sleep.  His plan divided the landing force into three sections.  As the senior Marine officer, Captain John Walsh would lead his men ashore on the American right.  Colonel McCobb’s Lincoln County militia and LtCol Revere’s artillerists would serve in reserve.  Colonel Jonathon Mitchell’s Cumberland County militia would go ashore on the American left.  Once ashore, Brigadier General Wadsworth would exercise overall command of the land forces.

Loading flat bottomed boats with so many armed men was a time-consuming effort, and the men were left standing in the boats for most of the night.  American naval fire began at 03:00.  At first light, the landing boats began their movement to shore under the cover of a dense fog, which made the movement to shore dangerously confusing.  Marines and militia began their landing at around 05:00; they were met by heavy British musket fire.  Moving in small groups, the men started their climb up the precipice essentially one-handed while holding their weapons on their non-dominant hand.

Mitchell’s force encountered McLean’s 82nd Regiment.  For the most part, the 82nd was composed of inexperienced soldiers, which allowed the militia to overrun them without much difficulty.  On the right, Walsh confronted McLean’s more experienced men, then serving under Lieutenant John Moore.[8]  While the Marines advanced with deadly resolve, Lieutenant Moore, with only twenty soldiers remaining alive, was equally tenacious in holding the line.  Captain Walsh was killed, his second in command, First Lieutenant William Hamilton was severely wounded, yet the Marines continued their assault.  Moore, in danger of being encircled, finally withdrew to the fort.

As the Marines regrouped, they counted their losses of 34 men, including Welsh and Hamilton.  Marine First Lieutenant William Downe assumed command on the right and continued his assault.  According to Downe, it looked as if General McLean was ready to concede the fort — and might have done so were it not for the fact that the Marines did not receive the naval artillery support they expected from Saltonstall.  Saltonstall’s failure to support the Marines and murderous fire from the British forced Downe to assume defensive positions.

By the end of the day, the Americans had established a 180° defense and proceeded to move their artillery ashore.  McLean, however, was firmly in control of Fort George.  Concentrated artillery fire forced the Americans to entrench.  Sleep-deprived, the militia were becoming unruly and not simply a little displeased with the navy’s lack of artillery support.

Sometime during the morning of 29 July, Commodore Saltonstall decided that it might be a good idea to construct a fortification facing the British.  Captain Salter of Hampden and Captain Thomas of Vengeance would supervise the work of sixteen engineers to build the American fort.  Now, if Saltonstall believed the militiamen were rowdy on 29th July, the attitude of the troops on 5 August was positively murderous.  They were tired of “dicking around.”

General Lovell, commanding ground forces, sent a note to Saltonstall asking whether his ships would enter the harbor to support the land force.  Everyone ashore wanted to know the answer, but Saltonstall felt it necessary to convene another series of war councils before answering.  Saltonstall decided, finally, that Lovell would receive no naval support until after he had taken Fort George.  At a subsequent meeting of militia officers, it was unanimously decided that if those were Saltonstall’s terms, he could bloody well take the fort himself.

For his part, General Lovell was steadfast in keeping the Massachusetts Council apprised of the progress of the Penobscot Expedition; the Council had heard nothing at all from Saltonstall.  When the Council finally understood how dire the situation was at Penobscot, they requested immediate reinforcements from General Horatio Gates, who was then at Providence.  Gates had no opportunity to respond to this emergency — it would have taken him far too long to recruit adequate reinforcements.  In any case, by that time, the Penobscot Expedition had already fallen apart.

By 13 August, General McLean had nearly completed his fort and a British fleet, having heard of the assault on 28 July, was en route to Penobscot under the command of Admiral Sir George Collier.  Lovell and his officers, no longer participating in expedition planning with the naval force, developed their own plan for assaulting the British fort.  Before the operation could be implemented, however, a heavy fog set in.  When it lifted, Collier’s flotilla was observed entering the lower bay with ten warships.  Although fewer in number than the Americans, the British fleet was experienced, proven in warfare, and more heavily armed.  Saltonstall was lucky that a rain squall appeared, followed by more fog and then darkness — but the American’s luck didn’t hold.

At first light, the British began their approach.  The American ships broke and ran from the fight and headed upstream, hoping to find small inlets where they could hide.  By nightfall, most American ships, including transports, had either been captured by the British or destroyed by their own crews.  Most of the landing force fled through the Maine wilderness, leaving behind them on the shores of the Penobscot River the smoldering remains of the American fleet.  The expedition’s survivors began filtering into Boston during the first week in September.

News of the Penobscot disaster shocked and demoralized the colony of Massachusetts.   Except for the three Continental ships and one ship from New Hampshire, the Massachusetts colony agreed to indemnify the owners of its ships for any damages or losses.  Including the cost of the expedition, Massachusetts added more than £4-million to its debt.  Worse, Massachusetts had lost its entire navy.  Someone would have to account.

Courts-martial exonerated Generals Lovell and Wadsworth of ineptitude.  Commodore Saltonstall, on the other hand, was tried and found guilty of gross incompetence.  A navy board determined that Saltonstall was wholly unfit to command a navy ship and stripped him of his commission.

As for the Continental Marines, their numbers being relatively small, they were never able to influence the events of the Penobscot River Expedition.  They performed admirably when called upon, as evidenced by the seizure of Banks Island, and seizing the heights at Bagaduce. Still, this valor was insufficient to compensate for the navy’s failed leadership.

There are as many lessons in failure as there are from success.  Despite achieving a near-victory, the Americans guaranteed their own defeat — first by failing to maintain unity of command, second by failing to develop a communications plan, third by poor operational planning, the employment of an untrained militia, and worst of all, timid senior commanders.

The cost of Penobscot was high.  From a strength of around 700 soldiers and ten warships, McLean held off an American force of 3,000 (navy and militia), 19 warships, and 25 support vessels.  McLean lost 86 men, killed, wounded, captured, or missing.  The Americans gave up 474 killed, wounded, captured, or missing, 19 warships destroyed, and 25 support ships sunk, destroyed, or captured.  General McLean retained his small settlement in Maine until the British force was withdrawn of their own accord.[9]  General McLean passed away from an illness in 1781. 

The United States did not seriously consider another large-scale amphibious operation until the Mexican-American War (1846-48).

Sources:

  1. Bicheno, H.  Redcoats, and Rebels: The American Revolutionary War.  London: Harper Collins, 2003.
  2. Buker, G. E.  The Penobscot Expedition: Commodore Saltonstall and the Massachusetts Conspiracy of 1779.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2002.
  3. Smith, C. R.  Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution, 1775-1783.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1975.

Endnotes:

[1] Maine was then known as the Eastern Provinces of Massachusetts Bay.  Some historians believe that Maine might have been looked upon as a location for a new British colony — one set aside for British loyalists in American.  It would be called New Ireland, and it would be located between the Penobscot and St. Croix rivers.

[2] Roughly one-third of the residents of New Jersey remained loyal to the British crown.

[3] Boston had become a center for privateering activities; McLean’s presence in Maine threatened the privateers, who were heavily invested in ships and crews. 

[4] Saltonstall (1738-1796) was a descendant of Sir Richard Saltonstall and John Winthrop, who governed the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th Century.  Politically well-connected in the colonies, Dudley received his commission in the Continental Navy upon the recommendations of his brother-in-law, Silas Deane, who served  on Connecticut’s Naval Committee.  He first commanded the flag ship of Commodore Esek Hopkins, Alfred and was responsible for hiring John Paul Jones as First Lieutenant.  In 1779, Saltonstall was the senior Continental Navy officer based in Boston.

[5] The chevaux-de-frise was an anti-cavalry defense work consisting of a portable frame covered with several to many long-iron projections, spikes, or spears.

[6] Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth (1748-1829) served as a general officer in the Massachusetts militia, district of Maine, as Adjutant General of Massachusetts, and as second in command to Brigadier Solomon Lovell during the Penobscot Expedition.  He later served as a congressman from Massachusetts.  He was the grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

[7] Thirty-two naval officers from 11 ships signed the petition.

[8] Later, Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore (1761-1809), also known as Moore of Corunna, was known for his tenacity in combat.  During the Peninsular War, Moore repulsed the army of Marshal Soult at Corunna, giving up his life in a valiant contest of martial will.

[9] A fictionalized account of the Penobscot Expedition was the subject of Bernard Cornwall’s book entitled The Fort (published 2010).