Civil War Marines

Prologue

There are few completely spontaneous events in human history.  There are usually several causes of events, and potentially a wide range of consequences.  There can even be consequences to inaction —such as in realizing that something bad is about to happen, and then doing nothing to avoid it.  It saddens me to say that for well over two-hundred years, the American people have proven time and again that they are incapable of learning history’s lessons, or worse, lack the ability to predict the likely consequences of their behavior.

The outbreak of the American Civil War was not a spontaneous event.   The discord and virulent hatred that evolved into civil war began at a much earlier time — even, perhaps, in the formative years of the nation, during and after the Constitutional Convention (5 May – 17 September 1787) when Americans began organizing themselves into political parties.  This conflict continues to exist today.

Regional Radicalization

Owen Brown and Ruth Mills, of Torrington, Connecticut, sired eight children.  They named one of these children John, who was born on 9 May 1800.  John was named after his grandfather, Captain John Brown [Note 1].  Owen Brown was a tanner who later moved to Hudson, Ohio, which over time became an important center of anti-slavery activity and debate [Note 2].  Thinking of it as his Christian duty, Owen offered safe housing and passage to fugitive slaves.  It is likely that Owen brought his children up to abhor human slavery.  Owen Brown was also one of the founders of the so-called Hudson School, a preparatory school consumed with the issue of slavery.

From early age, John Brown believed that his calling in life was to serve God as a minister of Christian gospel.  Following prep-school in Massachusetts, Brown enrolled the Morris Academy (Litchfield, Connecticut) in preparation for becoming a Congregational Minister [Note 3].  Illness and lack of money, however, forced him to give up this ambition and he returned to Ohio where, like his father, he became a tanner.  When Owen moved his family to Pennsylvania in 1825, John (with wife and children) accompanied him.  The family settled in New Richmond where they operated a tannery and secretly provided aid to runaway slaves.  It was part of a network called the Underground Railroad.  Historians estimate that the number of runaway slaves that passed through Brown’s Pennsylvania farm was around 2,500.

Life was hard in the 1830s.  In the Brown family, John lost his wife and an infant son to disease.  In fact, of John’s six remaining children, only three survived to adulthood, but life goes on and John remarried a young woman from New York.  They produced thirteen children, and of these, only three survived to adulthood.  Due to economic depression in the late 1820s and early 1830s, John (as nearly everyone else in the country) suffered financially from a lack of business and increasing debt.

Economic depression caused thousands of people to uproot and relocate to new areas for a “fresh start.”  Some people “skipped out” owing other folks money; some of these ended up migrating to Texas.  John Brown moved his family to Franklin Mills (present-day Kent), Ohio.  To achieve his “new start,” John borrowed money to begin a business partnership with Zanas Kent.  Another economic crisis developed in 1839 and John Brown lost his farm.  When the farm was sold to another family, John Brown refused to vacate the property and he ended up in prison.  By then, John Brown had become a radical abolitionist.

In 1846, Brown moved again to Springfield, Massachusetts where he discovered people of means who emotionally and financially supported the abolition movement.  At about the same time John Brown left Massachusetts in 1850, the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act [Note 4].  Brown responded by organizing armed resistance to “slavers.”  He called his group the League of Gileadites [Note 5]; they were men and women who sought to protect runaways and prevent the law from returning them to bondage.  Brown was successful in doing this over several years.

In 1855, John Brown moved to Kansas, where his adult children and their families lived, and where they were experiencing threats of violence from local pro-slavery radicals.  John apparently believed that it was his duty to protect his family from the effects of popular sovereignty, which after 1854, took on an increasingly violent tone [Note 6].  In 1856, pro-slavery activists began a campaign to seize Kansas on their own terms, which led to the term “Bloody Kansas.”  By this time, John Brown was receiving substantial financial support from wealthy abolitionists in Massachusetts and New York, among whom, John Brown had become a hero.

Radical Politics to Terrorism

John Brown’s notoriety among northeastern abolitionists prompted him to shift his tactics from that of defending and protecting runaways to planning and implementing raids against “slavers.”  To achieve his more militaristic strategies, Brown used the money donated to him by abolitionists to purchase firearms and ammunition.  In 1858, Brown initiated the Battle of the Spurs [Note 7].  After Brown met with Frederick Douglass and George de Baptiste in Detroit, Brown’s activities became even more aggressive.  De Baptiste came up with the idea of getting everyone’s attention by blowing up southern churches.

Brown’s new strategy included actively recruiting abolitionist raiders to assault southern slave owners.  Joining Brown were such notables as Harriet Tubman.  Frederick Douglass understood and sympathized with Brown’s overall goal of establishing a new state for freed slaves, but while Brown insisted on the use of force of arms, Douglass disapproved of any resort to violent action.

Brown’s radical aggressiveness led to his plan for the raid on Harper’s Ferry (then in Virginia).  Brown reasoned that if he could free slaves in Virginia, arm them, and train them, then he could instigate armed rebellion against their oppressors.  He imagined that a slave uprising would engulf the southern states.  Why Harper’s Ferry?  It was the location of a federal arsenal [Note 8].

John Brown rented a farm house with adjacent smaller cabins near the community of Dargan in Washington County, Maryland, four miles north of Harper’s Ferry.  Along with 18 men (13 white, 5 black), he took up residence there under the name Issac Smith.  Abolitionist groups shipped him 198 breech-loading .52 caliber Sharps Carbines and 950 pikes.  Brown told curious neighbors that these shipments were mining tools, which aroused no suspicion among them.  Brown would launch his raid from this property, known as the Kennedy Farm.

The armory at Harper’s Ferry was a large complex of buildings that manufactured small arms for the United States Army (1801-1861), with an arsenal (storehouse for weapons) thought to contain 100,000 muskets and rifles.  Brown imagined he needed these weapons to arm southern slaves.  

Initially, Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry was successful.  His men cut telegraph wires, captured he armory (defended by a single watchman), and rounded up hostages from nearby farms.  One of these hostages was Colonel Lewis Washington, a great grandnephew of President Washington.  Although Brown controlled the railroad line that passed through Harper’s Ferry, he allowed an early morning train to pass through the town.  When the train arrived at the next station, telegrams were dispatched alerting authorities about Brown’s seizure of Harper’s Ferry.  Brown was not a stupid man; he wanted a confrontation with the federal government — but this is what Frederick Douglass warned him about.  Attacking the federal government would bring down the wrath of the government upon him.

At the moment Brown commenced his raid, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, U. S. Army, was on leave at his plantation home in Arlington, Virginia.  After Secretary of War John Floyd learned of the raid, he summoned Lee to Washington and placed him in charge of recapturing Harper’s Ferry and bringing John Brown to justice.  Colonel Lee would command all militia forces available in the area of northwest Virginia and all “available” regular forces.

The only regular force readily available at the time was a detachment of Marines from the Washington Navy Yard, and the only line officer available to command them was First Lieutenant Israel Greene, U. S. Marine Corps [Note 9].  At 23:00 on 17 October 1859, Lee ordered all militia forces gathered at Harper’s Ferry to withdraw.  The next morning, he sent First Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart to John Brown under a white flag with his order to surrender.  Brown promptly refused.  A few moments later, Lee ordered Lieutenant Greene to attack the engine house held by Brown.

Within three minutes of Lieutenant Greene’s order to advance, Marines captured John Brown and seven of his men; ten of Brown’s men lay dead, including his sons Watson and Oliver.  Five other men managed to escape (including Brown’s son Owen).  Of Brown’s captives, four men died (including Colonel Lewis) and nine received serious wounds.

The Nation Goes to War

The Raid at Harpers Ferry was the first pre-Civil War conflict involving federal troops, but one that involved US Marines in a significant role.  In 1861, the entire Marine Corps numbered 63 officers and 1,712 enlisted men [Note 10].  It was the smallest of all services (and still is).  As the smallest armed force, the Marines had an understandably limited involvement in civil war battles.  None of America’s armed forces were prepared for war in 1861.  When war broke out, the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy scrambled to organize a fighting force.  Secretary of War Simon Cameron asked Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells for a battalion of Marines for service in the field.

Secretary Wells subsequently ordered Colonel Commandant John Harris to form a battalion of “disposable” Marines for field duty.  Harris, in turn, ordered Major John G. Reynolds to assume command of a battalion consisting of four companies, each containing eighty men.  Reynolds was instructed to report to Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, U. S. Army [Note 11].  At the same time, Secretary Cameron ordered McDowell to provision the Marine battalion, which had no field service equipment.

Not every Marine was happy about the prospect of service in the field.  Second Lieutenant Robert E. Hitchcock [Note 12], who served as post Adjutant in the Washington Navy Yard, wrote a letter to his parents on 14 July 1861 informing them, “Tomorrow morning will see me and five other lieutenants and 300 Marines on our way to the Fairfax Courthouse to take part in a great battle.  This is unexpected to us because the Marines are not fit to go to the field …”

Major Reynolds was a good choice to command the battalion.  A veteran of the Mexican American War with 35 years of military service, Reynolds knew what to expect from the upcoming battle.  His troops, however, were untrained, inexperienced, and had no idea what awaited them.  All four of Reynold’s companies were commanded by noncommissioned officers.  More than a few of these 328 Marines had been in the Marine Corps for less than a week.  On average, the average length of service for the Marines of this battalion was two months.  Of the total number, only seven privates had ever smelled the stench of gunpowder.

Reynold’s executive officer was Major Jacob Zeilin and his few officers were young lieutenants assigned as staff officers, none of whom were available for line assignments.  As the battalion made its way through Washington DC, excited citizens clapped and cheered.  Once in Virginia, however, Reynold’s Marines became just another group in a long line of march behind the West Point Battery of Artillery.  Eventually, the Marines linked up with the Army of Northeast Virginia — the largest field army ever gathered in North America.

General McDowell intended to move westward in three columns.  Two of these would make a diversionary attack on the Confederate line at Bull Run; his third column would maneuver around the Confederate right flank to the South.  He believed this strategy would serve to deny reinforcements from Richmond and threaten the Confederate rear.  His assumption was that when faced with an attack from the rear, the rebels would abandon Manassas and fall back to the Rappahannock River, thus reducing the likelihood of a Confederate march on the US capital.  That was the plan [Note 13].

McDowell attached Major Reynold’s battalion to the 16th US Infantry, which was part of the brigade of Colonel Andrew Porter.  Of the Marines, Porter observed, “The Marines were recruits, but through the constant exertions of their officers had been brought to present a fine military appearance, but without being able to render much active service.”  As the Marines were not, at the time, US infantry (their duties and training being more focused on naval service), Reynold’s battalion was attached to Porter’s artillery where they could be utilized as its permanent support (ammo carriers).  With this decision, Porter seemed to have reduced the possibility that the Marines would see much fighting.

McDowell led his unseasoned army across Bull run against Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard.  His plan depended on speed and surprise, but his southward march took twice as long as expected, there were problems with issuing supplies, his columns became disorganized, and several regiments lost their way after darkness set in.  According to a diary kept by Major Reynolds, the artillery unit to which he was assigned contained six horse-drawn cannons.  These elements kept racing ahead of the Marines at every opportunity.  “The battery’s accelerated march was such as to keep my command more or less in double-quick time; consequently, the men became fatigued or exhausted in strength.”  Northern Virginia’s July temperature added to the Marine’s fatigue.

Union Brigadier General Ambrose Burnside’s brigade fell upon the Confederate left, which was held by Colonel Nathan Evans’ under-strength brigade.  Captain Charles Griffin’s battery, followed closely by Marines, crossed the creek and opened fire from a range of about 1,000 yards.  Their rifles had an effective range of 500 yards.  Evans was initially at a disadvantage, but the inexperienced union troops soon buckled under intense Confederate fire and began to fall back.  Porter’s brigade held firm, but the arrival by train of Confederate reinforcements under Brigadier General Joseph E. Johnson changed the dynamic of the battle.  A brigade of Virginians under a recently promoted Brigadier General by the name of Thomas J. Jackson rallied at Henry House Hill.

Griffin’s artillery was augmented by the artillery battery of Captain J. B. Ricketts.  With this artillery support, the US infantry was ordered to take Henry House Hill.  Major Reynold’s battalion lined up with the 16th US Infantry.  The fighting was intense, but indecisive until the unexpected arrival of an unknown regiment.  Griffin wanted to fire on the dark-clad soldiers, but McDowell’s artillery chief, Major William F. Barry, ordered Griffin to withhold his fire.  Barry thought the mysterious regiment was Union reinforcements.  They weren’t.  Colonel Arthur Cummings’ 33rd Virginia Regiment unleashed murderous fire on Griffin’s gunners and the Marines.  Brigadier General Bernard Bee, CSA was so impressed by Jackson and his men that he shouted, “There is Jackson, standing like a stone wall.  Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer.  Let us rally behind the Virginians!”  This is how Brigadier General Jackson became known as “Stonewall Jackson.”

The overwhelming fire delivered upon the Union force caused them to break and run.  It was the sensible thing to do, but their rapid withdrawal permitted the Virginians to overrun Griffin’s artillery.  “That was the last of us,” Griffin reported.  “We were all cut down.”  [Note 14].

Major Reynolds feverishly attempted to rally his Marines, but another confederate charge drove Reynolds from Henry House Hill.  In his after-action report, Brigadier General Porter commended the Marines: “Major Reynolds’ Marines, whose zealous efforts were well sustained by his subordinates, two of whom, Brevet Major Zeilin and Lieutenant Hale, were wounded, and one officer, Lieutenant Hitchcock, lost his life.”  In addition to Lieutenant Hitchcock, nine enlisted Marines were killed in action, sixteen received serious wounds, and twenty Marines were taken prisoner.  Nevertheless, the Commandant of the Marine Corps was not pleased.  “The first instance recorded in its history where any portion of the Corps turned their backs to the enemy,” he said.

The Commandant was unnecessarily harsh on these men.  They were untrained recruits and therefore unqualified for duty in the field.  They were the least trained troops in McDowell’s army, and yet … they gave a good account of themselves at the First Battle of Manassas.  Their 13% casualty rate was equal to every other regular army battalion, including the most experienced unit in the Union army at Bull Run.  The only people pleased with the result of the Battle of Bull Run were the Confederates — and their spy in Washington, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, of course.

With the Union army receiving priority for funding, Congress only slightly enlarged the Marine Corps … and only then because in doubling the size of the Navy, the Navy demanded an increase in the number of ships detachments.  After staffing ship’s detachments, the Marines could only man a single polyglot battalion at any given time.  Because the Marines of shipboard detachments performed most of the amphibious assaults in capturing enemy bases, there was scant need for a standing Marine battalion.  Still, capturing enemy bases was no easy task as it required more manpower that was available within a small Marine Detachment aboard ship.  More to the point, throwing Marines together under officers and NCOs they did not know hardly made them into a lethal landing force.  Fort Sumter at Charleston, S. C. in 1863 is a case in point.

Through the summer of 1863, the city of Charleston had withstood every Union offensive.  After Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren replaced Admiral Samuel DuPont as commander of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, he proposed a joint Navy-Army assault to seize outlying Morris Island and then move on Fort Sumter itself.  He asked Secretary Welles for an extra battalion of Marines to be combined with another battalion assembled from several ship’s detachments.  Colonel Commandant Harris assembled a disparate group of Marines — from recruiters to walking wounded — designated them a Marine battalion, and placed them under the command of Major Zeilin, who was still recovering from his wounds.

Admiral Dahlgren and Brigadier General Quincy A. Gillmore, U. S. Army (an engineer) agreed to begin their campaign with the seizure of Fort Wagner on Morris Island.  Gillmore made good use of a new artillery piece called the Billinghurst Requa Battery Gun; it consisted of 25 rifled barrels mounted on a field carriage and was capable of rapid fire.

On 10 July 1863, Gillmore’s troops landed safely on the far side of the island, but the next day encountered stiff resistance and were repulsed.  The following week, Colonel Robert G. Shaw led a doomed assault on Fort Wagner, spearheaded by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a black regiment.  Shaw and 54 of his men were killed, and another 48 men were never accounted for.  Other regiments from New York, Connecticut, and New Hampshire were equally decimated by unwavering defenders.  After these overwhelming failures, Gillmore called off his planned-for all-out attack and instead ordered his engineer to dig a number of  snaking approach trenches.  As the engineers dug, Gillmore directed calcium floodlights at the defenders (another innovation), which blinded the defenders enough to disrupt accurate rifle fire.  The soil on Morris Island had a sandy top layer with a muddy base, so the engineers began uncovering the decomposing remains of soldiers killed in earlier attempts to seize Fort Wagner.  Disease, bad water, and decomposing bodies demoralized the Union engineers.

Admiral Dahlgren planned for Zeilin’s Marines to make a landing and support Army troops already ashore, but Zeilin objected.  He argued that his force was “ … incompetent to the duty assigned, that sufficient sacrifice of life had already been made during this war in unsuccessful storming parties.”  Major Zeilin also complained that too many of his Marines were raw recruits and that the climate was unsuitable to properly train them.  Admiral Dahlgren was not at all pleased by Zeilin’s objections, but he cancelled the landing.

When Major Zeilin fell ill, Captain Edward M. Reynolds (son of then Lieutenant Colonel George Reynolds) assumed command of the battalion.  After the surprising Confederate withdrawal of Fort Wagner, Admiral Dahlgren moved swiftly to attack Fort Sumter.  On the evening of 8 September, five-hundred Marines and sailors in 25 small boats, under the direction of Commander Thomas H. Stevens, prepared to assault the fort.  That very night, Dahlgren learned that Gillmore was planning a separate boat attack.  Attempts to coordinate the attack faltered over the question of whether the Army or Navy would exercise overall command.

Meanwhile, the Confederates, having captured a Union code book, deciphered Dahlgren’s signals and knew when and where to expect the attack.  Confederate fort and batteries surrounding Fort Sumter trained their guns on Sumter’s seaward approaches.  CSS Chicora (an ironclad) waited in the shadows behind the fort.  Captain Charles G. McCawley (future Commandant) was the senior Marine officer in the night assault.  He later recalled a lengthy delay before the landing boats were launched, great confusion within the landing force once they boarded the landing craft, and a strong tide that separated the landing craft once ordered ashore.

When the landing force came within range, Confederate sentries fired a signal rocket to alert harbor batteries to commence firing.  Of the 25 boats assigned to Marines and sailors of the assault force, only eleven made it to shore.  The amphibious assault collapsed within twenty minutes.  Only 105 Marines survived the assault, and they surrendered to Confederate forces because they had no other choice.  Twenty to thirty captured Marines died at the Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

In the fall of 1864, General William T. Sherman had taken Atlanta and headed east toward the sea.  Sherman requested that Major General John Foster seize the Charleston-Savannah Railroad line at Pocotaligo by 1 December.  Doing so would protect Sherman’s flank as he approached Savannah.  Foster failed to win the fight at Honey Hill (Boyd’s Neck) and the rail line remained in Confederate hands.  Sherman then turned to the Navy, who assembled 157 Marines under First Lieutenant George G. Stoddard.  According to Stoddard, “Soon after dark on the 5th, I received orders from the Admiral to form my battalion and proceed on board the Flag Steamer Philadelphia for an expedition up the Tulifinny River.  Embarked about midnight under orders to land the next morning, cover the land of artillery, and advance on the enemy.”

At dawn the next day, a combined force of Marines, sailors, and soldiers landed at Gregorie Point, South Carolina, advanced on the right of the naval battery, and came under fire at about 11:00.  Stoddard deployed his battalion as skirmishers on the right and advanced into the wood beyond Tulifinny crossroads, pushing the enemy back.  With the Gregorie Plantation house in Union possession, the force moved quickly toward the Charleston-Savannah line and surprised the 5th Georgia Infantry.  A corps of 343 cadets from the Citadel bivouacked four miles away heard the gunfire and quick marched to Gregorie Point.

Early on the morning of 7 December, the cadets and three companies of Georgia infantry mounted a surprise attack at the center of the Union position.  Marines were at the center of the line, supporting army and navy field artillery batteries.  As the cadets inched toward the Marine position, they came under withering fire.  Undaunted, the cadets fixed their bayonets and mounted a charge against the Marine perimeter but were repulsed and forced to withdraw.  Stoddard ordered a counterattack through the dense swamp.  The fog was so thick that the Marines could not see a man three feet ahead.  Citadel cadets filled the air with Mini bullets and after suffering many casualties, the Union troops withdrew to their line.

Union forces made a final assault against the Confederate line on 9 December.  The Marine battalion formed on the right of a 600-man skirmish line.  To the Marine’s right was the Tulifinny River; just ahead was the bivouac area of the cadets.  Stoddard’s men came within fifty yards of the rail line before the 127th New York volunteers, to the Marine’s left, began a retreat.  The Marines continued forward, but Stoddard soon found himself in great danger of being cut off.  Without a concerted effort, the Union attack failed with Marine losses numbering 23 killed, wounded, or missing.

Fort Fisher is located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in Wilmington, North Carolina.  It protected the Confederacy’s last operational Atlantic port with 39 large guns and an assortment of smaller caliber weapons.  Its earthen walls were 9 feet high and around 25 feet thick.  On the morning of 14 December 1864, 75 Union warships and transports under the command of Admiral David Porter steamed south from Hampton Roads, Virginia toward Fort Fisher [Note 15].  The transports contained 6,500 soldiers under Major General Benjamin Butler.  Delayed in transit by a storm, Porter began his bombardment of Fort Fisher (an estimated 20,000 shells) on 24 December.  A landing party of 2,500 soldiers went ashore on 25 December, but withering Confederate defensive fires denied their advance.  Butler called off the attack and Porter withdrew his fleet beyond the range of the fort’s guns.

A second attempt was scheduled for 6 January, but meanwhile Butler was fired and replaced by Brigadier General Alfred Terry.  Another storm delayed the Union assault until the 13th when Porter’s ships bombarded the fort for two additional days.  Terry landed 8,000 soldiers.  Detachments of Marines and sailors assembled for an amphibious assault, numbering around 1,600 sailors and 400 Marines armed with cutlasses and revolvers.  This force was divided into four companies under Captain Lucien L. Dawson with Navy Commander Randolph Breeze appointed as landing force commander.

There is nothing simple about an amphibious assault.  In this instance, the assault boats ran aground in the rough surf leaving the Marines and sailors with no other option than to abandon the landing boats for the crashing waves and endure grapeshot and shrapnel killing them in droves.  A few hundred yards from the fort, the landing party occupied previously dug rifle trenches and waited for the order to mount a frontal assault —the deadliest of all engagements.  The signal to attack came at around 15:00, prompting sailors and Marines to approach the fort’s palisades in single file.  Observing from aboard ship, a young Navy lieutenant named George Dewey wrote of the bloody fiasco, “ … It was sheer madness.”

It was supposed to be a coordinated attack, but Brigadier General Terry held back his troops on the Confederate left.  Instead, sailors and Marines fought hand-to-hand engagements with Confederate defenders for the next six hours.  Dawson had no time to reorganize his companies after such engagements as he was constantly on the move responding to Commander Breeze’s orders to “move up.”  When the attack began to fail, Dawson rallied two companies of Marines to provide covering fires for the withdrawing sailors and Marines.  Several Marines spontaneously joined the Army’s assault on the main parapet early in the evening, thus helping to overrun Fort Fisher.  Confederate losses were 400 killed in action and 2,000 taken as prisoners of war.  Terry’s force lost 900 men, the Sailors and Marines lost an additional 200 men killed with 46 more wounded or missing.  Of the total of Marines, six were later awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in the Battle of Fort Fisher.

Conclusion

Despite these “land battles,” which yielded mixed results, the main contribution of Marines during the Civil War was their service aboard ship on blockade duty and inland river flotillas.  At Mobile Bay in August 1864, Marines blocked an attempt by Confederates to ram USS Hartford, Admiral Farragut’s flagship.  Corporal Miles M. Oviatt, aboard USS Brooklyn, and seven other Marines, received the Medal of Honor for their role in that engagement.  Admiral Samuel DuPont once stated, “A ship without Marines is not a ship of war at all.”

Considering the enormity of the American Civil War, the role of the United States Marine Corps was small — but then, the Marine Corps was small.  Yet in the context of the missions assigned to the Marines, they excelled in every task assigned to them.  They didn’t win every engagement — for all kinds of reasons, but they gave their all.  Equally important, however, was the fact that the Marines, as an institution, learned important lessons that would prepare them for future conflicts.

Marines learned, for example, that there is no substitute for quality training, rehearsed landing operations, mastering the art and science of embarkation, the importance of unity of command, and meticulously coordinated landings with naval gunfire support.  Within 33 years, the First Marine Battalion was the first infantry force to land during the Spanish-American War; 19 years after that, they acquitted themselves with aplomb and lethality as part of the American Expeditionary Force.  In the decade following the Great War, they developed amphibious warfare doctrine, published the Landing Party Manual (which incorporated lessons learned from the failure at Fort Fisher), developed the Small Wars Manual, established the foundation of the Marine Air Wing, developed specialized equipment for advanced base defense, amphibious operations, and organized themselves for the crucible for an even greater war and dozens of unexpected crises.  Our political leaders may lack foresight, but this is not a failure of Marine Corps’ leadership.

Sources:

  1. Alexander, H. D.  The Battle History of the U. S.Marines: A Fellowship of Valor.  Harper-Collins, 1999.
  2. Heinl, R. D.  Soldiers of the Sea: The U. S. Marine Corps.  Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute Press, 1962.
  3. Jones, J. P. And Edward F. Keuchel.  Civil War Marine: A Diary of the Red River Expeditions, 1864.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1975.
  4. Krivdo, M. E.  What are Marines For?  The United States Marine Corps in the Civil War Era.  College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2011.
  5. Nalty, B. C.  United States Marines at Harper’s Ferry and in the Civil War.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1983.

Endnotes:

[1] Captain Brown’s ancestors were Puritans in New England.

[2] One of the people apprenticed to Owen Brown to learn the tanning trade was a man named Jesse Grant, the father of Ulysses S. Grant.

[3] Congregationalists were reformed protestant assemblies that distanced themselves from centrally proscribed traditions in order to govern themselves through democratically minded parishioners.

[4] The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required “free states” to aid “slave states” in the return of runaway slaves and imposed severe penalties on those who aided and abetted in the escape of slaves.

[5] This name is biblical in origin.  Mount Gilead is remembered as the place where only the bravest of Israelis gathered to confront an invading enemy.

[6] The Kansas-Nebraska Act mandated popular sovereignty, where territorial settlers decided for themselves whether to allow slavery within a new state’s borders.  Following secession of eight southern states in 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state.  This was one of John Brown’s goals.

[7] The so-called Battle of the Spurs took place while John Brown and twenty-one of his followers (including women and children) escorted twelve escaped slaves from Missouri to Iowa, a free state.  Near Straight Creek, Brown encountered a posse of around 45 lawmen and bounty hunters hoping to earn the $3,000 bounty placed on John Brown.  Undaunted, Brown led his party ahead.  Brown was an imposing figure and — to be perfectly honest, he appeared deranged.  Terrorized, the posse turned their horses and fled.  The term “Battle of the Spurs” euphemistically refers to the posse “giving their horses the spur” in distancing themselves from John Brown.

[8] It wasn’t as if Brown’s intended raid at Harpers Ferry was a closely held secret.  Brown had recruited British mercenary Hugh Forbes to train his men in warfare, and Forbes held nothing back about what he was doing.  When Brown refused to pay Forbes more money for his services, Forbes traveled to Washington to meet with senators William H. Seward and Henry Wilson, informing them that Brown was a vicious man who needed restraint.  Wilson, in turn, wrote to his abolitionist friends advising them to get Brown’s weapons back.  A Quaker named David Gue sent an anonymous letter to War Secretary Floyd on 20 August 1859 warning him of a pending insurrection.

[9] Although born in New York and raised in Wisconsin, Israel Green resigned his commission in the US Marine Corps and joined the Confederacy.  What may have prompted this decision was the Greene had married a woman from Virginia.  In 1873, Greene migrated from Clarke County, Virginia to Mitchell, Dakota Territory where he worked as a civil engineer and surveyor.  He passed away in 1909, aged 85 years.

[10] Only 16 officers resigned their Marine Corps commission to join the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War.

[11] McDowell graduated from the USMA with initial service in the 1st Artillery.  He later served as a tactics instructor before becoming aide-de-camp to General John E. Wool during the Mexican-American War.  Between 1848-1861, McDowell served as a staff officer with no foundation in command of troops when he was appointed to serve as a brigadier general in May 1861, a product of the efforts of a close family friend, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase.  To McDowell’s credit, he protested his assignment to command the Army of Northeast Virginia, arguing that he was unqualified to serve as a field commander.  His field of expertise was logistics.  Moreover, he realized that his troops were poorly trained and not ready for combat service.  Succumbing to political pressure, however, McDowell initiated a premature offensive against the Confederate forces in Northern Virginia and was soundly defeated on every occasion.  It did not help matters that high ranking Union civilian and military officials funneled McDowell’s battle plan to Rose O’Neale Greenhow, who sent them to Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard.  See also, Little Known Legends.  In any case, McDowell’s plan was ambitious, imaginative, and overly complex.  None of McDowell’s subordinate commanders could execute them, nor their men execute them.

[12] Hitchcock also participated at Harpers Ferry; he was killed during the Battle of Bull Run.

[13] No battle plan survives the first shot fired.

[14] Civil War officers, if they were not friends, knew one another.  Whether serving the Union or Confederacy, they all had the same instruction at the USMA, they fought together in the Mexican-American War, served together at various posts and stations after 1848.  Field generals could, therefore, anticipate what his opponent would (or would not) do.

[15] David Dixon Porter (1813-1891) was a member of one of the most distinguished families affiliated with the United States Navy.  He was the second Navy officer to achieve the rank of admiral, after his adopted brother David Farragut, and is credited with improving the Navy as a Superintendent of the U. S. Naval Academy.  He was a cousin to Major General Fitz John Porter of the Union Army.

Aviation Etiquette

Some Background

Douglas Bader (1910-1982) was born in St. John’s Wood, London, the second son of Frederick and Jessie Scott MacKenzie.  When Douglas was four years old, his father left for the Great War, was seriously wounded in 1917, and eventually died of his wounds while still in France in 1922.  Douglas may have grown up with only vague memories of his father.  His mother, who was always somewhat detached from her children soon remarried.  He never developed a bond with his step father, Reverend Ernest William Hobbs, and the somewhat unruly child spent a good deal of the rest of his youth with other relatives until he was old enough to attend boarding school.

After spending several years at Temple Grove School, a famous preparatory academy known for austerity and strict behavioral standards, Douglas attended secondary school at St. Edwards.  There, Douglas involved himself in athletics.  On the field, he was known as a particularly aggressive athlete, but the head master was an understanding, tolerant man who was willing to put up with petulant behavior as long as St. Edwards won its various competitions. 

Unhappily, Douglas was a better athlete than he was a student, so it was necessary to place him in a tutoring program.  Eventually, with an increase in the headmaster’s stern emphasis on academic excellence, Douglas became an accomplished student —at least good enough gain acceptance as an officer cadet at RAF Academy, Cranwell.

AVRO 504

Douglas Bader joined the RAF in 1928 continuing to excel in athletics while at Cranwell.  Whatever he did, he did with unmatched zeal, even participating in the prohibited pastime of motorcar racing.  When discovered, motor racing nearly ended his time at Cranwell.  At the end of his first academic year, Douglas placed 19th (of 21 students).  This dismal performance earned him a private session with Air Vice Marshal Frederick Halahan, after which Douglas settled down to his studies.

Douglas took his first flight with Flying Officer W. J. “Pissy” Pearson in an AVRO-504.  The aircraft was a World War I vintage aircraft intended as a fighter-bomber.  One of the finest aircraft of the day, the ‘504’ continued in production until 1932.  Douglas completed his first solo flight on 19 February 1929 after only 11 hours of flight time.  Competing for the RAF Sword of Honor award, Douglas placed second behind Patrick Coote, who later served as a wing commander with British Air Forces, Greece.  Coote was killed on 13 April 1941 while flying as an observer with No. 211 Squadron, Bristol.

Aerial Disaster

Bader received his commission as a pilot officer on 26 July 1930 and was assigned to No. 23 Squadron, Kenley. At Kenley, Bader flew the Gloster Gamecock (of which only 108 were ever produced) and the Bristol Bulldog, one of England’s more famous aircraft in the interwar years. As with most aviators during this period, Bader became somewhat of a daredevil. The Bulldog did have stability issues when flying at low speeds, which meant that stunt flying was somewhat more dangerous than usual. The aircraft’s poor stability at low speeds prompted the Air Service to issue restrictions on aerobatic flying below 2,000 feet. Bader frequently disregarded these restrictions.

After one training flight on the gunnery range, Bader achieved a low 38% on target rate and after taking some heat from fellow pilots, he decided to “show them” by demonstrating his aerobatic skills.  His flagrant disregard of safety regulations prompted one senior officer to remark that had Bader been in his squadron, he’d have him court-martialed.  But Bader’s CO gave his pilots more latitude; he wanted his pilots to realize their own skill limitations.  During the previous year, No. 23 Squadron won the Hendon Air Show “pairs” event.  It was a great accomplishment and there was much enthusiasm for defending the squadron’s title during the Air Show in 1931.  Bader flew with his CO in the pairs event.  Because the squadron had lost two pilots earlier in the year, flight safety was on everyone’s mind.  Everyone, that is, except Douglas Bader.  On 14 December, Bader attempted some low flying stunts in a Bulldog MK-IIA … on a dare by squadron mates and ended up crashing.  Both his legs were amputated—one above the knee, and the other just below.  Bader’s log book entry reflected simply “Crashed slow-rolling near ground.  Bad show.”

After a long convalescence which involved excessive amounts of morphine, Bader was transferred to the hospital at RAF Uxbridge for post-operative therapies in learning how to walk with artificial legs and weaning himself away from morphine.  Despite his significant handicap, Bader wanted to continue flying.  In 1932, Air Under-Secretary Philip Sassoon arranged for Bader to take up an AVRO-504, which he piloted properly.  A subsequent medical examination proved him “fit for flight duty,” but the RAF later reversed this finding on the grounds that King’s Regulations would not allow him to continue flying and he was invalided out of the RAF in May.  He took a job with Asiatic Petroleum (now Shell Oil).

World War II

By 1938, Europe was well down the road toward another world war and Douglas Bader wanted to return to active duty.  In 1939, he accepted an invitation to appear before a board of officers whose task it was to evaluate his fitness for active service.  At that time, the board was only inclined to offer him a ground assignment.  However, with some sympathy for Bader’s situation, Air Vice Marshal Halahan asked the Central Flying School to assess his aeronautical ability.  Bader reported for flight competency tests on 18 October.  Despite the Air Service’s reluctance to offer him full flight status, a medical board endorsed his return to aeronautical duties, and he was sent for flight training in modern aircraft.  He soloed again on 27 November in an AVRO Tutor, and once again throwing caution to the wind, violated air safety regulations by flying his aircraft inverted at 600 feet above ground level.  Over time, Bader transitioned to Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft.

Douglas Bader was 29-years old when he reported for duty with No. 19 Squadron at Duxford in January 1940.  He was the oldest pilot in the squadron.  Between February-May 1940, Bader underwent tactical training, part of which involved aerial screening for convoys at sea.  Within a short time, Bader became a flight section leader.  It was during this period that pilot error caused him to crash a Spitfire while taking off.  Although suffering from a slight head wound, Bader was allowed to take a second Spitfire into the air.  He was subsequently advanced to Flight Lieutenant and appointed Flight Commander of No. 222 Squadron, Duxford.

Douglas Bader experienced his first air combat after the Wehrmacht swept into Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium, and France.  The defensive campaign was a disaster for the Allied Powers, of course, and the British soon began their evacuation from the European mainland.  Bader was one of many RAF pilots participating in Operation Dynamo, which provided air security for the Royal Navy at Dunkirk.

Bader downed his first German aircraft while patrolling the coast near Dunkirk, a Messerschmitt BF-109.  On his next combat patrol, he shot down a Heinkel HE-111, and after that a Dornier DO-17, which was in the process of attacking allied shipping.  On 28 June, Bader assumed temporary command of No. 242 Squadron, flying Hurricanes from Coltishall.  Most of his squadron pilots were Canadians who had suffered high losses during the Battle of France; their morale was low.  At first, the Canadians resisted Bader, but his personality won them over and the unit was re-transformed into a fighting unit.  No. 242 Squadron joined No. 12 Group RAF at Duxford and became fully operational on 9 July 1940 — the Battle of Britain began the next day.

 Everyone knows something about the Battle of Britain, but few people realize that the battle was intended to be the first phase of Operation Sea Lion —the invasion of Great Britain by German land forces.  During the Battle of Britain, Squadron leader Bader destroyed eight additional German aircraft.  His aggressive flying earned him the first of two Distinguished Service Orders (DSOs).

In early Spring 1941, Bader was appointed “acting” wing commander at Tangmere with operational authority over No. 145, 610, and 616 Squadrons.  Bader had his initials “D. B.” painted on the side of his Spitfire, which gave rise to his subsequent callsign: Dogsbody.

Between 24 March and 9 August 1941, Bader flew 62 fighter sweeps over France.  On 9 August 1941, Bader led a section of four aircraft over the French coast when he observed twelve MBF 109s flying in formation 2-3000 feet below.  Bader dived too fast and too steeply to acquire a target and barely avoided colliding with an enemy aircraft.  He leveled out at 24,000 feet to find that he was alone, separated from his section.  He was considering whether to return to base when he spotted three pairs of Messerschmitt 109s a few miles to his front.  He dropped down below them and closed, destroying one and then, turning away, had a midair collision with another Messerschmitt.  At least, that’s what Bader believed, but there was some controversy about what had actually happened[1].  In any case, Bader became a German Prisoner of War.  Despite his reliance on prosthetic legs, Bader made several attempts to escape captivity and he was moved to a more secure location.

Post War

After his repatriation, Bader served in the RAF until July 1946, when he retired as a Group Captain and rejoined Shell Oil Company. In total, Bader’s combat record included 22 aerial victories, four shared victories, six probable victories, one “shared probable,” and eleven damaged enemy aircraft. His wartime honors included Commander of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order (2), Distinguished Flying Cross (2), and designation as a Fellow of the Royal Air Force Society. A film about Bader was titled Reach for the Sky.

One of his more famous post-war escapades occurred during a talk at an upmarket school for young ladies.  During his talk, he said to the ladies, “So, there were two of the f***ers behind me, three f***ers to my right, another f***ker on my left.” 

At that moment, the greatly disturbed head mistress was moved to interject, “Ladies, the Fokker was a German fighter aircraft.”

Sir Douglas then felt equally obliged to reply, “That may be, madam, but these f***ers were Messerschmitt’s.”

Aviators.  You can’t take them anywhere.


Endnotes:

[1] See Also Bader’s Last Flight by air historian Andy Saunders.

National Security and the U. S. Marine Corps

War Office 001Shortly after the inauguration of President George Washington in 1789, Congress created the United States Department of War (also, War Department) as a cabinet-level position to administer the field army and Naval Affairs under the president’s constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States and the United States Secretary of War.  The first Secretary of War was retired army general Henry Knox.  With the possible exception of President James Madison “lending a hand” alongside U. S. Marines at the Battle of Bladensburg in 1814, George Washington is the only Commander-in-Chief to lead a field army in 1794 during the so-called Whiskey Rebellion.

President John Adams considered the possibility of reorganizing a “new army” under the nominal command of retired President Washington to deal with the increase of maritime incidents between the United States and the French Republic in 1798.  Adams considered this possibility owing to his concern about the possibility of a land invasion by the French and his perceived need of consolidating the Armed Forces under an experienced “commander in chief.”  A land invasion would come, but not from France.

Also, in 1798, Congress established the United States Department of the Navy, initiated on the recommendation of James McHenry[1] to provide organizational structure to the emerging United States Navy and Marine Corps (after 1834), and when directed by the President or Congress during time of war, the United States Coast Guard (although each service remained separate and distinct with unique missions and expertise).  Until 1949, the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy served as members of the presidential cabinet.

Following World War II, particularly as a consequence of evolving military technology and the complex nature of war, Congress believed that the War and Navy departments would be better managed under a central authority.  James Forrestal, who served as the 48th Secretary of the Navy, became the first United States Secretary of Defense[2].  A restructuring of the US military took the following form under the National Security Act of 1947.

  • Merged the Department of the Navy and Department of War into the National Military Establishment (NME). The Department of War was renamed the Department of the Army.  A Secretary of Defense would head the NME.
  • Created the Department of the Air Force, which moved the Army Air Corps into the United States Air Force.
  • Protected the U. S. Marine Corps as a separate service under the Department of the Navy.
  • The secretaries of military departments remained nominal cabinet posts, but this arrangement was determined deficient given the creation of the office of the Secretary of Defense.

While the National Security Act of 1947 did recognize the U. S. Marine Corps as a separate naval service, it did not clearly define the service’s status within the Navy Department. Under this new arrangement, the Commandant did have access to the Secretary of the Navy[3], but many operational matters involving the Marine Corps continued to fall under the purview of the Chief of Naval Operations.  As an example, the U. S. Navy funded Marine Corps aviation, determining types of aircraft made available to the Marine Corps as well as matters pertaining to air station operations.  Accordingly, the Marine Corps, as an organization, remained vulnerable to the dictates of others in terms of its composition, funding, and operations limiting the role of the Commandant in deciding such matters.

USMC SealWithin three months of assuming the office of Commandant on 1 January 1948, General Clifton B. Cates was forced to confront a difficult political situation.  In March, Defense Secretary Forrestal convened a meeting of the military secretaries and service chiefs in Key West, Florida to discuss and resolve their respective roles and missions within the National Military Establishment.  Since General Cates was not invited to the meeting, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Louis E. Denfield, undertook the representation of the Marine Corps as part of the Navy.  The problem was that the Marine Corps has never been part of the U. S. Navy.

Part of the Key West conference involved a discussion concerning likely future conflicts, with everyone agreeing that America’s next war would involve the Soviet Union in Europe.  Should this happen, given President Truman’s mandate to cut Defense spending, then the Army and Air Force would require substantial defense allocations for reinforcements.  In order to fund this potential threat, the meeting concluded that the Marine Corps must receive less money.  Besides, argued the Army and Air Force, there would be no need for an amphibious force in a European war.  The Key West meeting concluded with an agreement that the Marine Corps would be limited to four infantry divisions, that the JCS would deny Marine Corps leadership any tactical command above the corps levels, and a prohibition of the Marine Corps from creating a second land army[4].

When General Cates learned of this meeting, he protested making such decisions without his participation claiming that it violated the intent of the National Security Act of 1947 and impaired the ability of the Marine Corps to fulfill its amphibious warfare mission.  General Cates protestations fell on deaf ears.

Louis A. Johnson replaced James Forrestal as Secretary of Defense in March 1949.  Johnson shared Truman’s commitment to drastic reductions in defense spending in favor of domestic programs.  Both Truman and Johnson made the erroneous assumption that America’s monopoly on atomic weapons would act as a sufficient deterrence against Communist aggression[5].  Neither of these men, therefore, believed that a military force-in-readiness was a necessary function of the Department of Defense.

Given the relative autonomy of the service secretaries and military chiefs under the National Security Act, and as a means of thwarting independent lobbying by either the Navy or the Air Force, President Truman pursued two courses of action.  (1) Truman sought (and obtained) an amendment to the National Security Act that made the Department of Defense a single executive department, which incorporated as subordinates, each of the service secretaries.  The amendment also created the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff[6], subordinating its members to the chairman, the first of these being General Omar Bradley[7].  (2) Both President Truman and Johnson demanded that the service secretaries and senior military leaders “get in line” with the President’s defense cuts.

The intimidation apparently worked because General Omar Bradley changed his tune once he was nominated to become Chairman of the JCS.  In 1948 he moaned, “The Army of 1948 could not fight its way out of a paper bag.”  In the next year, both he and Army Chief of Staff General Collins testified before Congress that Truman cuts made the services more effective.

At about the same time, in a meeting with the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Richard L. Conolly, Johnson told him, “Admiral, the Navy is on its way out.  There is no reason for having a Navy and Marine Corps.  General Bradley tells me amphibious operations are a thing of the past.  We’ll never have any more amphibious operations.  That does away with the Marine Corps.  And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy.”

Truman hated the Marine Corps with intense passion, which might afford psychologists years of interesting study.  He did not think the nation needed a corps of Marines when there was already a land army.  In implementing Truman’s budget cuts, Secretary Johnson intended that the Marine Corps be disestablished and incorporated into the U. S. Army.  Toward this goal, Johnson initiated steps to move Marine Corps aviation into the U. S. Air Force.  He was soon reminded that such a move would be illegal without congressional approval.

Neither Truman nor Johnson ever accepted the fact that the Marine Corps, as a combat force, provided unique strategic and tactical strengths to the national defense structure.  What the law would not allow Secretary Johnson or President Truman to do, they attempted to accomplish through financial starvation[8].  Under the chairmanship of Omar Bradley, the JCS was bitingly hostile to the Marine Corps.

The Marine Corps, however, was not the lone ranger.  Less than a month after assuming office, Secretary Johnson canceled construction of the USS United States, a then state-of-the-art aircraft carrier.  Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan[9] resigned his office, and a number of Navy admirals joined him, effective on 24 May 1949.  The incident is remembered as the Revolt of the Admirals.

Major Denfeld
Admiral Denfield USN

The revolt of admirals prompted the House Armed Services Committee to convene hearings during October 1949.  A number of active duty and retired admirals appeared before the committee and gave their testimony, including Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Denfield[10].  They had little good to say about Louis Johnson or newly appointed Navy Secretary Francis Matthews.  General Cates also gave testimony, giving his unqualified support to the Navy.  Along with this, he protested the fact that he had not been consulted in matters pertaining to the Marine Corps and the impact of these decisions on the national defense.  Said Cates, “… the power of the budget, the power of coordination, and the power of strategic direction of the armed forces have been used as devices to destroy the operating forces of the Marine Corps.”  The House committee also called General Bradley, who, in arguing in favor of disestablishment of the Navy and Marine Corps rejected the notion that the United States would ever again have a use for amphibious operations.

Replacing Admiral Denfield as CNO was Admiral Forrest P. Sherman, who immediately repudiated General Vandergrift’s agreement with Secretary Sullivan.  He instead approached the Secretary of Defense and requested “a free hand” in matters pertaining to the Marine Corps.  Johnson granted Sherman’s request.  At the beginning of 1950, after two years of forced budgetary cuts, Sherman slated the Marine Corps for additional cuts.  The Marine Corps would be reduced to 24,000 officers and men, a reduction from eleven infantry battalions to six, from twenty-three aviation squadrons to twelve.  Additionally, Secretary Johnson ordered the curtailment of appropriations for equipment, ammunition, supplies, and people and excluded Marine Corps units from various tactical training.  Admiral Sherman assigned the bulk of amphibious ships to support Army training, leaving the Marines with little to do.

War did return to the United States, of course.  When it did, it proved General Omar Bradley and the other joint chiefs were completely wrong in their predictions.  Worse, it demonstrated how unprepared the United States was for its next martial challenges. 

Support for the Marines

Although Representative Carl Vinson (D-GA) proposed a bill that gave full JCS membership to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the measure failed but generated much attention in the American press, particularly in the Hearst news organization.  Public support was already growing for the Navy-Marine Corps when the war clouds once more gathered in the Far East.

Among Truman’s staunchest congressional foes was Representative Gordon L. McDonough (R-CA).  McDonough wrote a letter to President Truman noting how the Marine Corps has always rushed to the nation’s defense.  With this in mind, the congressman urged the president to include the Commandant as a full member of the JCS.  The president’s response to McDonough tells us far more about Truman than is possible in an entire essay.  Truman wrote, “For your information, the Marine Corps is the Navy’s police force, and as long as I am President, that is what it will remain.”  Apparently, Truman failed to consider that he was writing to someone who might use the president’s blistering comments against him later on.  Truman continued, “They [Marines] have a propaganda machine almost the equal of Stalin’s.  When the Marine Corps goes into the Army it works with and for the Army and that’s the way it should be … The Chief of Naval Operations is the chief of staff of the Navy of which the Marines are a part.”

McDonough inserted Truman’s response into the Congressional Record, and it wasn’t long before the press picked it up and printed it.  Press reporting created a firestorm in the United States.  Conservative politicians of both parties and journalists excoriated Truman for his remarks.  The White House was overwhelmed by mail from the public, many who lost loved ones during World War II, expressing their indignation of Truman’s remarks.  Presidential aides scrambled to construct a letter of apology, which Truman personally handed to General Cates at the White House.  He then released a copy to the press.  Afterward, when Truman fired Louis Johnson after only 18 months as Defense Secretary, the matter moved to the back burner.

The nation responds

Immediately following World War II, the Eighth US Army was assigned to occupation duty in Japan.  Initially, there was much work to be done: disarming former Japanese soldiers, maintaining order, dealing with local populations, guarding installations, and prosecuting war criminals. According to the Eighth Army Blue Book[11], “On 31 December 1945, Sixth Army was relieved of occupation duties and Eighth Army assumed an expanded role in the occupation, which encompassed the formidable tasks of disarmament, demilitarization, and democratization.  The missions were flawlessly executed at the operational level by Eighth Army …”

The statement may be undeniably true, but as the Japanese people settled comfortably into their new reality, demands placed on soldiers and their officers lessoned.  What the Blue Book’s history section omits, a dangerous precedent for future soldiers, was that this major combat command became lethargic, pleasure-seeking, and in the face of severe budgetary restraints imposed on it by the Truman administration, reached an unbelievable level of incompetence and ineptitude.

In the early hours of 25 June 1950, the (North) Korean People’s Army, numbering 53,000 front line and supporting forces followed a massive artillery bombardment into South Korea.  There were only a handful of Army advisors in South Korea at the time.  Those who wanted to continue living made a beeline toward the southern peninsula.

In Japan, there was a single battalion in the 21st Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division capable of “mounting out” to interdict the overwhelming KPA army.  The battalion, composed of mostly untrained teenagers capable of little more than standing guard duty in Japan, never stood a chance.

The Marines Respond

At the time of the North Korean invasion, senior officers of the U. S. Marine Corps knew that they would be called upon to address this new crisis.  Lieutenant General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, in Hawaii, flew to Tokyo to confer with General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP), in Tokyo.  At the conclusion of their meeting, MacArthur sent a dispatch to the JCS in Washington requesting the immediate assignment of a Marine regimental combat team to his command.

In Washington, General Bradley delayed his response for a full five days.  By the time the JCS did respond, the North Korean Army had already mauled the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division at the Battle of Osan, rendering it combat ineffective.  Closer to the truth, 1/21 was combat ineffective even before it arrived on the Korean Peninsula.  For these young men, the land of the morning calm had become a bloody nightmare.

In late June 1950, Marine Corps manpower equaled around 74,000 men.  The total number of Marines assigned to the Fleet Marine Forces was 28,000, around 11,000 of these were assigned to FMFPac.  Neither the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton nor its east coast counterpart, the 2nd Marine Division, could raise more than a regimental landing team (RLT) of combat-ready troops, with supporting air.  To fully man a combat division, it would be necessary to transfer Marines to Camp Pendleton from posts and stations, recruiting staffs, supply depots, schools, depots, districts, and even Marine headquarters.

General MacArthur had requested an RLT, he would get a Marine brigade, the advance element of the 1st Marine Division that had been ordered to embark.  The officer assigned to lead the Brigade was the senior officer present at Camp Pendleton, Brigadier General Edward A. Craig, an experienced combat leader with 33 years of active duty service.

The ground combat element of the Brigade would form around the 5th Marine Regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Raymond L. Murray.  Murray was already selected for promotion to colonel.  Marines reporting for duty at Camp Pendleton were rushed to the 5th Marines where they would flesh out Murray’s understrength battalions[12].  1st Battalion 11th Marines (artillery) would serve in general support of the brigade with additional detachments (company strength) in communications, motor transportation, field medical, support, engineer, ordnance, tanks, and special weapons.

At the Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, California, Marine Aircraft Group 33 was being formed around Brigadier General Thomas H. Cushman.  Cushman would serve as Craig’s deputy and command the brigade’s air element, consisting of a headquarters squadron, service squadron, VMF 214, VMF 323, VMF(N) 513(-), and Tactical Squadron-2 (detachment).

In total, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade arrived in Korea with 6,534 Marines —its equipment, brought out of mothballs dating back to World War II: trucks, jeeps, amphibian tractors, all reconditioned and tested for service.

MajGen Frank E. Lowe USA
MajGen Frank Lowe USA

Major General Frank E. Lowe, U. S. Army (Retired) was dispatched to Korea as the personal envoy of President Truman.  His task was to observe the conduct of the conflict and report his findings directly to the President.  General Lowe advised President Truman that the Army, its senior leadership and combat doctrine were dangerously lacking.  Of the 1st Marine Division, General Lowe reported, “The First Marine Division is the most efficient and courageous combat unit I have ever seen or heard of.”  General Lowe recommended that the Marine Corps have a permanent establishment of three divisions and three air wings.

Whether General Lowe’s report influenced Truman is unknown.  What is known is that the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of the Navy, and Chief of Naval Operations continued to oppose recognition of the Marine Corps as a viable service and its leader as someone entitled to become a member of the JCS.  Still, public and congressional support for the Marine Corps increased steadily.  The issue of the Douglas-Mansfield bills was deferred until the 1952 legislative session.  Before then, however, Admiral Sherman died suddenly in July 1951, and General Lemuel C. Shepherd succeeded Cates as Commandant of the Marine Corps.

As a result, the 1952 legislative session worked in the Marine Corps’ favor.  The Marine Corps was approved for a peacetime force of three infantry divisions, three air wings, and a manpower ceiling of 400,000 men.  The Commandant was granted access to the Joint Chiefs of Staff with voting rights on matters pertaining to the Marine Corps, as determined by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and on 20 June 1952, President Truman signed into law the Douglas-Mansfield Act.  Some pundits claim that politically, Truman did not dare veto the bill —others argue that Truman finally realized the value of the Marine Corps as our nation’s premier combat force.

Sources:

  • Catchpole, L. G. The Korean War.  London: Robinson Publishing, 2001
  • Davis, V. The Post-Imperial Presidency.  New Brunswick: Transaction Press, 1980
  • Fehrenbach, T. R. This Kind of War: The Classic Korean War History.  Washington: Potomac Books, 2001
  • Krulak, V. H. First to Fight: An Inside View of the U. S. Marine Corps.  Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999.
  • Montross, L. and Nicholas A. Canzona. S. Marine Operations in Korea, 1950-1953 (Volume 1): The Pusan Perimeter.  Historical Branch, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, Washington, D. C., 1954.
  • The United States Naval Proceedings Magazine, Volume 33, Number 3: A Propaganda Machine Like Stalin’s, Alan Rems, June 2019

Endnotes:

[1] A supporter of the United States Constitution, Representative from Maryland, and third Secretary of War.  He was also a noted surgeon with many successes during the Revolutionary War.  Fort McHenry, outside Baltimore, is named in his honor.

[2] Forrestal had served in the Navy Department as Under Secretary since 1940 and appointed as Secretary of the Navy in 1944.  Forrestal served as Secretary of Defense from 18 September 1947 until 28 March 1949 when President Harry S. Truman asked for his resignation and replaced him Louis A. Johnson.  Forrestal’s wartime service had taken its toll and he was personally shattered when fired by Truman, with whom he had little patience.  He took his own life on 22 May 1949 while undergoing treatment for severe depression.

[3] During World War II, Chief of Naval Operations Ernest J. King was well-known as a micro-manager.  He treated the Commandant of the Marine Corps as another one of his bureau chiefs and denied the Commandant access to the Secretary of the Navy.  This restriction changed when Admiral Nimitz became CNO, but the relationship was a gentleman’s agreement between Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan, Admiral Nimitz, and Marine Commandant Alexander A. Vandergrift.  The National Security Act of 1947, however, did not clarify the status of the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy.

[4] During World War II, the Marine Corps fielded six infantry divisions.

[5] Nearly every newly created U. S. Air Force general was a proponent of the use of strategic bombing and atomic warfare as the United States’ principal defense strategy.  Standing in opposition to this ludicrous mindset was nearly every active duty and retired Navy admiral.

[6] The JCS evolved from a relatively inefficient joint board of senior Army and Navy officers who seldom agreed in matters of operational planning or execution.  The Joint Board performed as presidential advisors but had no authority to initiate programs or policies.  Following World War I, the Joint Board was renamed the Joint Planning Committee with the authority to initiate recommendations but had no authority to implement them.

[7] General Bradley detested the Marine Corps almost as much as President Truman and Secretary Johnson.

[8] Because of Truman and Johnson’s defense cuts, the United States had no combat-ready units in June 1950.

[9] Replacing Sullivan was Francis P. Matthews, a former director of the USO who admitted to having no expertise that would qualify him for service as a Navy Secretary beyond his contempt for the Marine Corps.

[10] President Truman demanded Denfield’s resignation and took action to demote the other admirals.

[11] Dated 3 July 2019.

[12] Each of Murray’s battalions were organized with an H&S Company, two rifle companies, and one weapons company.

Chinese Gordon – Part I

Gordon 001
MajGen Charles G. Gordon

All the Gordon’s sons were army officers —descendants of military officers who devoted themselves to the idea that their children would inherit this tradition.  And so they did.  Major General and Mrs. Henry William Gordon were the parents of Charles George Gordon, Major General, British Army, Commander of the Bath (1833-1885).  Owing to his father’s duty stations, Charles grew up in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Ionia.  Charles’ education included the Fullande School in Taunton, the Taunton School, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.

While still a young lad, Charles’ younger sister succumbed to consumption; her passing devastated him and for several months he withdrew from the family.  An older sister named Augusta, a particularly religious young woman, embraced Charles and she influenced him for the rest of his life.  It was because of Augusta, for example, that Charles grew up to become a staunchly religious person.  Despite his religious beliefs, Charles was a spirited and highly intelligent young man, one who developed the (then) deplorable habit of ignoring authority whenever he believed that its rules were foolish or unjust.  This was a trait that held him back for two years at the military academy,.  At the same time, Gordon had marvelous talents.  He developed into an accomplished cartographer and engineer.  He received his commission to Second Lieutenant of Royal Engineers in June 1852, completed his training at Chatham, and advanced to First Lieutenant in February 1854.  Although trained as a sapper [Note 1], he became adept at reconnaissance, leading storming parties, demolitions, and providing rearguard actions.

His inclination to question or disregard orders aside, Charles Gordon evolved into a fine military officer.  He had charisma, a superior leadership ability, and an unparalleled devotion to his assigned task or mission.  His only problem was that in refusing to obey what he considered an unlawful or poorly conceived orders, many senior officers regarded him as rogue.  Yet it was this very same trait that caused his men to love him.

Over time, Gordon became even more devoted to his religious principles.  He was no zealot by any measure, at least not initially, but someone who maintained the strength of his convictions —and was steadfast in living his life according to those beliefs.  In many ways, Gordon was a fatalist; believing in the after-life, he was not afraid of death and some say, in time, he began to pursue it.

During the Crimean War, Gordon performed his duties at the siege of Sevastopol, took part in the assault of the Redans as a sapper, and mapped the strongpoints of the city’s fortifications.  What made this a particularly dangerous duty was that it subjected him to direct enemy fire from the fortress and he was wounded during one such sortie.  During this war Gordon made several friends who remained so for the rest of his life; friends that would later defend him.

In 1855, the British and French initiated a final assault on Sevastopol.  Following a massive bombardment, sappers assaulted the fortress at Malakoff Hill.  The engagement was a massacre of British and French soldiers and none of the operation’s planned objectives were achieved.  As a participant, Gordon distinguished himself by his courage under fire and his tenacity as a combat leader.

Following the end of hostilities in the Crimea, Gordon served the international commission charged with marking a new border between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire in Bessarabia.  He later performed similar services on the frontier between Ottoman Armenia and Russian Armenia.  It was during this time that Gordon became fascinated with a new American invention and took it up as a hobby: the camera.

Seeking adventure, Gordon volunteered to serve in China during the Second Opium War (1860).  By the time he arrived in Hong Kong, however, the fighting was over.  He had heard of the Taiping Rebellion [Note 2] but didn’t understand it.  En route to China, he read all he could about the Taiping and initially found sympathy for the movement.  Gordon was a young man, reading one individual’s opinion, and allowed himself to be influenced by it, but what made his empathy a bit odd was that the leader of the Taiping —a man named Hong Xiuquan— believed himself to be the younger brother of Jesus of Nazareth.

After disembarking in Shanghai, Gordon made a tour of the Chinese countryside.  The atrocities he witnessed committed by the Taiping against local peasants appalled him and he began to see the Taiping for what they were: cold-blooded killers.  

During the early period of his tour in China, Gordon served under General Charles William Dunbar Staveley [Note 3], who occupied northern China until April 1862.  During the war, Taiping armies came close enough to Shanghai to alarm European residents.  European and Asian legations raised a militia to defend Shanghai.  Legates detailed Frederick Townsend Ward [Note 4] to command this militia.  Apparently, the British arrived in the nick of time.  General Staveley decided to clear the rebels within 30 miles of Shanghai.  He planned these operations in cooperation with Ward and a small force of French soldiers.  At the time, Gordon served on Staveley’s staff as an engineer.

Henry Andres BurgevineAfter Ward’s death, command of his Asian army passed to another American, Henry A. Burgevine (shown right).  It was an unhappy choice because Burgevine was ill-suited to the task of commanding a multi-ethnic mercenary force: he was inexperienced in leading a large body of men, lacked the necessary self-confidence of command, and consumed copious amounts of alcohol, making him unreliable.  The Taiping rebellion was a civil war, of course, but unlike any other in the history of the world and Henry Burgevine was no Frederick Ward.  He was much detested by the Chinese —so much, in fact, that the governor of Jiang-su Province asked General Staveley to appoint a British officer to command this largely mercenary force.  The officer Staveley selected was Brevet Major Gordon.  The British government approved Gordon’s appointment in December 1862.  Gordon, it seems, was exactly the kind of man Governor Li Hong-Zhang was looking for: a man of good temper, clean of hands, and a steady economist.

Major Gordon, unlike many (if not most) Chinese officers, was honest and incorruptible.  He did not steal the money that was earmarked to pay his men, and he insisted on paying the men on time and in full.  Of course, the Chinese bureaucrats did not understand why Gordon insisted on paying his men.  In their view, he should have allowed his men to loot and plunder the countryside for their pay —this was the way of things in China.  Gordon would not have any of that sort behavior among his men.  To instill a sense of pride in his men, Gordon designed their uniforms.  He dressed his regulars in green, while designating blue uniforms for his personal guard.

Major Gordon assumed command of his army in March 1863 and led them at once to relieve the town of Chansu some forty miles northwest of Shanghai.  Gordon quickly accomplished this first test, which was securing the respect and loyalty of his troops.  As a means of encouraging the Taiping to either desert or surrender, he treated all prisoners of war with dignity and respect.

As an engineer, it occurred to Major Gordon that the network of canals and rivers that flowed through the Chinese countryside would be useful for moving his troops and establishing an expedient supply line.  In matters of training and rehearsing his army, Gordon’s ideas were innovative and efficient.  He was vocally critical of the methods Chinese generals used in war fighting.  In contrast, Gordon was sought to avoid unnecessary casualties or large battle losses.  By maneuvering his forces to deny enemy retreat, he found that enemy troops would quickly withdraw from the battlefield [Note 5].  Gordon believed that frontal assaults produced unacceptably high numbers of casualties (which is true).  As his subordinate commanders were Chinese, they did not object to unnecessary carnage, but Gordon insisted on attacking the enemy’s flank whenever possible.  Gordon’s innovative thinking, such as his creation of a riverine force, caused the Taiping army to avoid Gordon’s army on several occasions.  Of some value to Gordon, once the peasants realized that Gordon’s strategy had a telling effect on the Taiping, they were more disposed to coming to his aid, which did occur on several occasions.   The peasants, tired of Taiping terrorism, attacked the retreating Taiping and hacked them to death with simple farming implements.  Among Gordon’s peers, he was“thoughtful and fearless in the face of grave danger.”

Because Gordon’s force was mercenary, their only loyalty was to money and the men willing to pay them.  It was only Gordon’s stern disciplinary policies that kept his force from plundering the peasants, whom they were supposed to protect.  At one point, Gordon ordered the execution of one of his Chinese officers who conspired to take his unit over to the Taiping.  It was a distasteful duty and one that would never survive the modern evening news, but in China, it was a necessary and prudent step to avoid mass desertion.  The fact is that Gordon’s mercenary force consisted of some of the worst elements of Chinese, British, and American society.  Prior to Gordon’s assignment in command, it was commonplace for these mercenaries to enter a town or district, steal everything they could get their hands on, rape the women, and indiscriminately murder local citizens.  It was only Gordon’s harsh discipline that changed this behavior.  Any of his men who were accused of crimes against the people would very likely face a firing squad —from which there was no appeal.

When Gordon defeated Burgevine’s new mercenary force, which had aligned themselves with the Taiping, he had Burgevine arrested and deported.  Burgevine, however made his way back to China, was promptly arrested by the Qing secret service, and was “shot while trying to escape.”  Burgevine was many things but exceedingly bright wasn’t one of them.

Major Gordon was appalled by the poverty and suffering of the Chinese people.  It was this hardship that strengthened his faith because, as he would frequently argue, there had to be a just and loving God who would one day redeem humanity from wretchedness and misery [Note 6].  Nevertheless, it was Gordon’s humanity that brought him the respect and friendship of those who opposed him politically.  He led his mercenary army from the front, never personally armed with anything more than a rattan cane.  His coolness in battle led many Chinese to believe that he possessed supernatural powers; it was only that Gordon was a fatalist and predestinate.  

Imperial troops joined Gordon’s force in capturing Suzhou.  He had let it be known that any Taiping soldier who surrendered would be humanely treated.  After pacifying surrounding towns and villages, Gordon himself entered Suzhou but, given the tendency of his men to loot, he denied them entry into the confines of the city.  Only the Imperial forces [Note 7] would be allowed to enter the city, and when they did, much to Gordon’s anguish, they promptly executed every Taiping who had surrendered.  Angry, he wrote, “If faith had been kept, there would have been no more fighting, as every town in China would have given in.”  Of course, what Major Gordon did not understand was that while it is possible to take a Chinese man out of China; it is impossible to take China out of the Chinese man.  Even today, most Chinese are devoid of a sense of humanity.

As a measure of the man and his integrity, the Emperor of China, in recognition of Gordon’s achievements, subsequently awarded Gordon ten-thousand gold coins, laudatory flags, fine silk clothing, and a title equivalent to Field Marshal.  All of these things Gordon refused —and all because the Imperial troops, in executing the Taiping prisoners, had made Gordon out to be a liar.   Rebuffing the Chinese emperor did nothing to solidify their relationship, but it was consistent with Gordon’s sense of self.  It was after his service in China that the press and his peers began to refer to him as “Chinese Gordon”.  The nickname stayed with him to the end of his days.  Gordon’s father did not approve of his son working in the service of the Chinese government and it was an estrangement that had not been settled before his father’s death.  Charles, of course, felt guilty about his failure to reconcile with his father and deeply regretted it for the rest of his life.

After Gordon’s return to England, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and placed in command of the Royal Engineers near Gravesend, Kent, and tasked to prepare fortifications in defense of the River Thames.  By then, Chinese Gordon has become a press celebrity —except that Gordon wanted nothing to do with it.  He promptly informed the press to leave him alone.  In Gravesend, Gordon volunteered to teach at a local school, called the Ragged School [Note 8].

Tasked with constructing forts, Colonel Gordon disapproved of the notion that they were in any way necessary.  He regarded them as expensive and useless.  The Duke of Cambridge [Note 9], in his role as Commander in Chief of the Forces (head of the British Army) visited one of the construction sites and praised Gordon for his excellent work.  Gordon answered, “I had nothing to do with it, sir.  It was built regardless of my opinion, and, in fact, I entirely disapprove of its arrangement and position.”  Gordon didn’t mince his words, regardless of who he was talking to.  And, of course, Gordon was entirely correct.  It was a waste of limited resources.

Gordon was advanced to Colonel on 16 February 1872.  Afterward detailed to inspect British military cemeteries in the Crimea, and when transiting through Constantinople, he made his manners to the Prime Minister of Egypt, Raghib Pasha.  Pasha opened negotiations with Gordon to serve under the Khedive (Viceroy) Ismai’il Pasha.  French educated, Isma’il admired Europe as a model of excellence, but favored most France and Italy.  He was a devout Moslem who enjoyed Italian wine and French champaign.  The language of Ismai’il’s court was French and Turkish, not Arabic.  It was the Viceroy’s dream to make Turkey culturally part of Europe and he spent enormous sums of money in the modernization and Westernization of Egypt.  The doing of this sent Egypt deeply into debt —even after the American Civil War had transformed Egyptian cotton into “white gold,” Ismai’il’s spending increased Egyptian debt to more than 93-million pounds sterling.

Ismai’il’s love affair with western culture alienated the more conservative members of Egyptian Islamic society.  Ismai’il’s grandfather, Muhammad Ali (The Great) attempted to depose the ruling Ottoman family in favor of his own, but failed due to the interference of Russia and Britain.  With this knowledge, Ismai’il turned his attention south with the notion of building an Egyptian empire in Africa.  Toward this end, Ismai’il hired westerners to work in his government, including Colonel Gordon, both in Egypt and the Sudan.  His chief of general staff was the American brigadier general Charles P. Stone [Note 10].  He, and a number of other American Civil War veterans commanded Egyptian troops.  In the opinion of some, American officers in the employ of Egypt were mostly composed of misfits in their own land.  As harsh as this criticism sounds, it may be based on fact.  Valentine Baker was a British officer who was dishonorably discharged after his conviction of rape.  After Baker was released from prison, Ismai’il Pasha hired him to work in the Sudan.  In any case, Colonel Gordon, with the consent of the British government, began working for Ismai’il Pasha in 1873—his first assignment was as governor of Equatoria Province (present-day Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda).  His mission included extending Equatoria into Southern Uganda with the goal of absorbing the entire Great Lakes region of East Africa.

Gordon 002jpg
Gordon Pasha

While serving in Sudan, Colonel Gordon undertook efforts to suppress the slave trade, and doing this while struggling against a corrupt and inefficient Egyptian bureaucracy—and one with no interest in suppressing the slave trade.  Gordon was later distressed to learn that his immediate superior was heavily engaged in slaving and actively countermanded many of Gordon’s efforts.  Despite his lofty position in the Egyptian government, Gordon believed that the Egypt was inherently oppressive and cruel and he was soon in direct conflict with the system he was supposed to lead.  What Gordon did achieve was close rapport with the African people, who had long suffered from the activities of Arab slave traders.  These same people were being converted from animists to Christians by European and American missionaries, and this gave Gordon some encouragement.  What made the effort a struggle was the fact that the basis of Sudan’s economy was slavery.  Gordon did manage to shepherd a number of reforms that materially improved the lives of the common man, such as in abolishing torture and public floggings.

(Continued next week)

Sources:

  1. Cleveland, W. And Martin Bunton.  A History of the Middle East.  Boulder: Westview Press, 2009
  2. Karsh, E.  Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789-1923.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.
  3. Marlowe, J.  Mission to Khartoum: Apotheosis of General Gordon.  Littlehampton Press, 1968

Endnotes:

  1. A sapper is a soldier responsible for the construction of roads and bridges and laying and clearing mine fields.  They are combat engineers (sometimes called pioneers) who remove enemy obstacles in order to keep the attack in progress.
  2. The Taiping Rebellion was one of the bloodiest conflicts in world history.  It lasted from 1850 to 1864 with estimated dead numbering in excess of 40-million people.
  3. General Staveley’s sister was married to Gordon’s brother.
  4. Ward was born in Massachusetts in 1831.  Because of his rebellious nature, his father consigned him to work aboard a clipper ship commanded by a friend.  The ship made frequent voyages to China.  While in China, Ward became a filibuster.  He was killed while commanding the “Ever Victorious Army” at the Battle of Cixi on 21 September 1862.
  5. The problem with allowing the enemy to withdraw is that they live to fight another day, perhaps under conditions or on terrain of their choosing. 
  6. It is true that there was much wretchedness in the world in Gordon’s day; to find it, he might have looked closer to home —in London, for example.
  7. Gordon referred to the Imperial army as “Imps.”
  8. Prior to 1870, there was no universal school system in the United Kingdom.  The so-called Ragged Schools were a network of privately funded schools that offered free education to children whose parents were too poor to afford the fees associated with available schools.  Unhappily, as with a few other senior British officers, 21st Century writers have used such examples of humanity to suggest, in Gordon’s and William Slim’s cases, that their compassion was likely motivated by their attraction to young boys.  The claims are ludicrous, of course, but this is what revisionists do to in their attempt to destroy the reputations of men (after their death) who occupied prominent footnotes in history.
  9. George William Frederick Charles, also known as Prince George of the House of Hanover, was a professional army officer with the rank of field marshal.  He served as commander in chief for 39 years, a period of time when the British Army became a moribund and stagnant institution.   I am quite sure he had something to say in response to Gordon’s caustic remark.
  10. ‘Urabi was a serving Egyptian officer who participated in the 1879 mutiny that developed into a general revolt against the Anglo-French dominated administration of Khedive Tewfik.  He was promoted to a place in Twefik’s cabinet and began reforms of Egypt’s military and civil administrations, but demonstrations in Alexandria in 1882 prompted a British naval bombardment and invasion.  ‘Urabi was deposed and the British occupied Egypt.

U. S. Marines in Haiti—Overview

Except among those whose interests lie in lost civilizations, the high number of natives destroyed by European diseases[1] has made Hispaniola’s early history mostly irrelevant —and owing to the savagery demonstrated by both native populations and Spanish settlers, none of the earliest Spanish colonies on Hispaniola fared well, either.

Christopher Columbus arrived at Hispaniola in 1492.  He established a small settlement he named La Navidad near Cap-Haïtien; within its first year, all 39-settlers were set upon and murdered.  A similar fate was shared by several more Spanish settlements between 1493 and 1592 —if they were not completely destroyed by native populations, then they were set aflame by either French pirates or squadrons of British Royal Navy.

At this same time, the Spanish Netherlands was in disarray; a rebellion had been ongoing for some twenty years.  The conflict was due in large part to the religious differences between Spanish masters and Dutch subjects.  By 1590, the Spanish had become thoroughly disgusted with the Dutch and ordered all Spanish home ports closed to Dutch shipping.  The Dutch responded by tapping into the trade network of colonies in Spanish America, people who were more than happy to establish illicit trade relations with Spain’s competitors.  Consequently, large numbers of Dutch traders joined with English and French privateers to deprive Spain of its customs duties —many of these trading depots were located on the island of Hispaniola.

In 1605, infuriated that Spanish settlements on the northern and western coasts of Hispaniola persisted in carrying out large scale (and illegal) trade with its enemies, Spain decided to resettle its populaces closer to Santo Domingo.  Known as the Devastaciones de Osorio, the forced resettlement led to death by starvation of half of Spanish colonial populations.  More than one-hundred thousand cattle were abandoned; slaves escaped into the wilderness, and Spanish troops destroyed five out of thirteen colonies.  This Spanish behavior was counter-productive because escaped settlers, slaves, and English, Dutch, and French privateers were then free to establish bases on what would become Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Within a short time, French, Dutch, and English buccaneers formed a lawless community on the island of Tortuga; Spanish shipping and colonies became their principal targets of opportunity.  The Spanish, of course, sought to defend their interests through a series of sorties in 1629, 1635, 1638, and 1654 by destroying pirate enclaves, but on each occasion the scoundrels soon returned.  In 1655, the English at Jamaica sponsored the reoccupation of Tortuga under an English governor named Elias Watts.  Five years later, the English proposed a replacement for Watts in the person of Frenchman Jeremie Deschamps.   This was not one of England’s more brilliant moves since Deschamps soon declared his loyalty to France … and the French took charge of the island, renaming it Saint Domingue.  The French maintained this control until 1790, when civil unrest in France and a slave revolt in Haiti eventually resulted in Haitian independence.

Haiti is the world’s oldest surviving black republic, but even though prominent Haitians actively assisted Latin American independence movements, the so-called great liberator, Simon Bolivar, worked to exclude Haiti from the hemisphere’s first regional meeting of independent nations (1826).  Neither did Haiti receive diplomatic recognition from the United States until 1862, thanks in large part to Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner.  Yet, it is fair to say that Haiti has struggled to find itself since 1806 and certainly, by 1911, Haiti was a failed state —as many African and hyphenated African nations are today, as well.

In any case, by 1915, Haitian instability was colossal: a series of political assassinations and forced exiles resulted in six separate presidential administrations (a record only rivaled by France’s 21 governments of the Fourth Republic following World War II).  Several Haitian “revolutionary armies” operated independent from one another, and each was formed by cacos[2] directing affairs from mountain enclaves in the north or along the border with Dominica.

In 1915, World War I had been raging for a year; the United States became apprehensive about the roles played by Imperial Germany in the Western Hemisphere.  Now in control of Tortuga, Germany had intervened in Haiti and other Caribbean nations several times during previous decades, seeking to increase its influence as a rival power in the Americas[3].

All was not well between Germany and the United States.  In several instances, Germany demonstrated its increasing hostility to the United States by establishing robust intelligence networks on Hispaniola and throughout Latin America.  Essentially, Germany dismissed the Monroe Doctrine[4] out of hand.  Another consideration was that, in the months leading into world war, the ports, port facilities, material wealth, and manpower of Hispaniola assumed a strategic importance to both Germany and the United States.  Added to this, the United States was cognizant of the rivalry in Haiti between American businessmen and their German counterparts.  Although the German community was relatively small, it wielded a significant economic influence over the Haitian government: German citizens wielded control over 80% of the Haiti’s international commerce, owned and operated port facilities at Cap-Haïten, Port-au-Prince, the tramway into the capital, and a major railway line.

Wilson 001When American financiers complained to the President of the United States in 1915 that Haiti (by then deeply in debt to US banks) had steadfastly refused to repay a sizeable American loan, Woodrow Wilson (shown left) ordered a military expedition to Haiti.  From the American perspective, Wilson’s momentous decision was thoroughly justified.

US political interests in Haiti extended back in time over many decades —its political and economic stability long a concern to our diplomats.  These concerns increased over time because as Haiti borrowed money from foreign governments, it found itself unable to repay these loans.  Consequently, there was an increased likelihood that a foreign power might seize Haiti for its own purposes.  See also: How Haiti became indebted[5].

In 1868, President Andrew Johnson went so far to suggest annexation of Hispaniola to secure an American claim to the West Indies.  In 1889, Secretary of State James Blaine attempted to lease the city of Mole-Saint-Nicholas so that the US could construct a naval base along the northern coast.  Then, in 1910, President Taft granted Haiti a large loan with the expectation that Haiti could pay off its international debt, thus lessening the possibility of foreign influence[6].

Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam (1859 – 1915) served as President of Haiti from 4 March – 27 July 1915.  He was a cousin of Tirésias Simon Sam, Haiti’s president from 1896 to 1902.  Sam was the commander of Haiti’s Northern Division when he led the revolt that brought President Cincinnatus Leconte to power.  He later headed the revolt that toppled President Oreste Zamor.  When Cacos realized that President Joseph Davilmar Théodore was unable to pay them for their service, they forced his resignation —Sam was proclaimed president in his place.

As the fifth president in five turbulent years, Sam was forced to contend with a revolt against his own regime, led by Dr. Rosalvo Bobo, who opposed the government’s expanded commercial and strategic ties with the United States. Fearing that he would share the same fate as his predecessors, Sam acted harshly against his political opponents, particularly the better educated and wealthier mulatto population. The culmination of his repressive measures came on 27 July 1915, when he ordered the execution of 167 political prisoners, including former president Zamor, who was being held in a Port-au-Prince jail. An infuriated the population rose up against Sam.

Fearing for his own safety, Sam fled to the French embassy where he received asylum. The rebels’ mulatto leaders broke into the embassy, however, found Sam, and dragged him out into the courtyard where they beat him senseless.  They then threw his unconscious body over the embassy’s iron fence to the waiting populace, who proceeded to rip his body to pieces.  For the next two weeks, Haiti was in chaos.

News of Sam’s murder soon reached US Navy ships anchored in the city’s harbor; President Woodrow Wilson, wary about the possibility that Bobo would seize power, ordered Marines to take the capital, claiming that the unrest might precipitate a German invasion of the country.  Two companies of Marines landed the next day under the command of Captain Smedley D. Butler.

Caco 001Soon after the Marines landed in Haiti[7], they removed $500,000 from the Haiti National Bank for safekeeping in New York, thus giving the United States control of Haitian finances.  This Marine presence averted long-term anarchy after Sam’s assassination, and prevented a possible German invasion. (Shown right, a trussed Caco, having been accused of murdering a US Marine).

The Marine expedition resulted in the Haitian-American Treaty of 1915 —and an agreement that, among other things, created the Haitian Gendarmerie.  The Gendarmerie was a military force composed of Haitian citizens, supervised and controlled by U. S. Marines.  Additionally, the United States gained complete control over Haitian finances, and the right to intervene in Haiti whenever the U.S. Government decided that was necessary or prudent to do so.  A general election was also held, resulting in the election of Philippe Sudré Dartiguenave—a pro-US politician who, unfortunately, was not the choice of the Haitian population[8].

President Wilson attempted to convince the Haitian legislature that it was time for a new constitution.  In 1917, a US proposal would have permitted foreign ownership of land, but Haitian lawmakers balked and refused to ratify the document.  When, instead, the lawmakers began to draft an anti-American constitution, President Dartiguenave dissolved the legislature; it did not reconvene until 1929.

Some of the Gendarmerie’s more unpopular policies —including racial segregation, press censorship, and forced labor— led to a peasant rebellion from 1919 to 1920. The U.S. Senate sent an investigative committee into Haiti in 1921 to examine claims of abuse, and subsequently the U.S. Senate reorganized and centralized power in Haiti. After this reorganization, Haiti remained fairly stable and a select group achieved economic prosperity, though most Haitians remained in poverty.

In 1929, a series of strikes and uprisings led the United States to begin its withdrawal from Haiti. In 1930, U.S. officials began training Haitian officials to take control of the government. In 1934, the United States, in concert with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy, officially withdrew from Haiti while retaining economic connections.

Notes:

[1] Contact between Europeans and Native American populations led to an unprecedented demographic disaster.  Many epidemic diseases well established in the Old World were absent from the Americas before Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492.  The catastrophic epidemics that accompanied European conquests destroyed indigenous populations in the Americas.  Diseases included influenza, smallpox, measles, and typhus fever.  Native Americans were unable to escape diseases, the effects of new seeds, weeds, and draft animals; the effect of these were irreversible.  Within only a few years, the plight of Native Americans led Spanish settlers to the importation of African slaves, which were enthusiastically sold by African Islamists.  In this way, the Americas rapidly became a center for the mixing of races and infectious agents.

[2] A word used by Marines, meaning peasant bandit.  Although of Spanish usage, the origin of the term is Greek “Kakos” meaning “bad,” or “low quality,” or “low life.”  It is similar in usage to the British “townie” or in the Americas, “wigger,” or white nigger.

[3] On 21 September 1897, Haitian police were seeking a suspect in a theft case—a man by the name of Dorléus Présumé.  Présumé was discovered washing a coach near the central stables of Port-au-Prince, whose proprietor was Emile Lüders.  Présumé resisted arrest, and Lüders came to his defense.  On that same day, a police tribunal sentenced both men to one-month’s confinement.  The accused appealed to a higher authority, but this time they were charged with resisting arrest —their sentence was increased to one-year in prison.  On 17 October, the German Chargé d’affaires demanded the immediate release of Lüders, whose father was a German citizen, along with the dismissal of the judge and all police officers involved in the matter.  Lüders was released from prison a few days later and promptly left the country.  Then, on 6 December, two German warships anchored at Port-au-Prince harbor and issued an ultimatum: the Haitians were to pay $20,000.00 paid to Lüders, Haiti’s permission for Lüders to return to Haiti, a letter of apology to the German government, a 21-gun salute rendered to the German flag, and a demand that the President of Haiti raise a white flag on the presidential palace as a token of his surrender.

[4] In 1917, Germany proposed an alliance with Mexico against the United States.

[5] After the revolution, France retained strong economic and diplomatic ties with the Haitian Government. France agreed to recognize Haitian independence in the Franco-Haitian Agreement of 1824, and in exchange, Haiti agreed to pay France a huge indemnity.  The payment of this obligation kept Haiti in a constant state of debt, giving France a unique influence over Haitian trade and finances.

[6] That attempt failed due to the enormity of the debt and the internal instability of the country.

[7] Only one Haitian soldier resisted the Marines; when he did, Mr. Pierre Sully was promptly dispatched.

[8] This may have been important psychologically, but the truth is that the Haitian people had demonstrated their electoral incompetence for more than 100 years.

A Time for Thanksgiving —and reflection

I cannot say that Thanksgiving is a uniquely American experience; I have read stories of Spanish conquistadors offering thanks in the Americas as early as the mid-1500s, but maybe “ownership” isn’t really the issue at all.  Our first official recognition of Thanksgiving was issued by proclamation by the Second Continental Congress in 1777 at a time when the future of the American colonies was still very much in doubt.  Philadelphia, then our national capital, was then occupied by British forces.  In spite of this, Americans offered prayers of thanks to God for all His blessings —they prayed also for success in battle.  The war didn’t progress very well for the Americans over the first few years; offering thanks disappeared until reintroduced by James Madison during our second war in 1814.  Then we prayed for the protection of our new union —and for the wisdom to maintain it.

Thanksgiving became official and permanent during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863 issued his own proclamation.  It was written in the context of our great civil upheaval; we prayed for reunification of a badly torn nation.

Nationally, thanksgiving celebrations have changed over generations, but it may also be fair to say that thanksgiving changes over the course of our lives.  The Thanksgiving holiday we experienced as children, sitting around tables laden with more food than we could possibly eat, is not the same as when we were sitting at similar tables as mid-life adults.

This is especially true among those who experienced thanksgiving away from home while engaged in combat.  After such experiences as these, pick any war, the holiday is never again quite the same.  Among our Marines and soldiers, the sweltering jungles of the South and Central Pacific while facing the fanatical Japanese stood in stark contrast with the bitter cold of the Korean peninsula.  In the latter case, some of our troops were provided with a hot, freshly roasted turkey with all the trimmings, but that was just moments before the 13 Chinese infantry divisions launched a massive assault against forward elements of the US 4th Infantry Division and 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir and along the entire front of the Eighth US Army in the west.  It involved some of the fiercest fighting of the entire Korean War —it was a Thanksgiving Day that thousands of men would not survive; that thousands more would never forget.

Only a few years later, our troops returned to jungle warfare —this time in Vietnam, where once more the Thanksgiving holiday became just another day “in the suck.”  In these circumstances, the memories of earlier festivities, of happier times, are best locked away, along with feelings of loneliness.  The North Vietnamese guards never hesitated to use isolation to enhance despair among our troops who had become prisoners of war.

The engagement in hostile conflict has become more or less constant for the United States, although I suspect that this is more reflects the incompetence of our politicians than it is upon who we are as a people  —yet, we continue to send our troops in harm’s way, and every Thanksgiving Day for far too many years, our young men and women become separated from their families and spend the day in lonely isolation from those who mean the most to them.  At home, families pray for the safe return of their children, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters.

Perhaps it is time to stop sending our troops into hostile areas when there is no clear national interest in doing so …

 

The Honor of Our Corps

by Robert A. Hall

Marine Corps Seal

When the beer, it flows like water,

And the talk, it turns to war,

Then we speak of absent comrades

And the Honor of our Corps.

Of the fights in distant places
,

And the friends who are no more,

Dying faithful to the nation
,

And the Honor of our Corps.

Though our bones are growing brittle,

And our eyes are growing poor,

Still our hearts are young and valiant
,

For the Honor of our Corps.

Should the Eagle, Globe and Anchor
,

Call us to the field once more,

We would muster at the summons
,

For the Honor of our Corps.

When the years have told our story,

And we close the final door,

We will pass to you for keeping

Bright the Honor of our Corps.

Will you take the awesome burden?

Will you face the fire of war?

Will you proudly bear the title

For the Honor of our Corps?

Marines in Nicaragua, Part X

Terror of the Bandits, Tiger of the Mountain

At the end of 1930, the Sandinistas were fighting smarter, and harder.  They were better armed.  On 31 December, a patrol of ten Marines were detailed to check the telegraph lines north of Ocotal when they walked into an ambush of an estimated 100 rebels.  After an hour of fighting, the Sandinistas withdrew leaving eight dead Marines along the trail; the remaining two were seriously wounded.  On the next day, a Central Area patrol struck a large rebel force behind a stone wall and were unable to dislodge them until reinforcements arrived.  That night, rebels employed machine guns to fire on Ocotal from long-range.

1931 was shaping up to be a bad year for the Guardia Nacional, which was still trying to establish itself as a national force.  At the end of 1930, from a total strength of 2,200 men, the Guardia lost 12 men killed in action; 200 more were sent to prison for various crimes, and 323 deserted.  Colonel Julian Smith, a proponent of four-man patrols, was stymied about what to do.  The small sized patrols were completely ineffective against large bandit groups.  He requested additional men, more automatic weapons, arguing that the Guardia in its present configuration could not sustain a war of attrition against significantly larger forces.

Lieutenant Puller briefly rejoined Company M in January and immediately took to the field.  Being almost constantly on patrol through mid-month, his roving patrols made intensive efforts to establish contact with rebel forces.  He made not a single contact during this period.  Part of the reason for this was that the Sandinistas had shifted their activities to the northern area.  There were 13 separate engagements in the northern area, only five in the Central region.  Through February and March, the Central Area established enemy contact on but two occasions; in the same period, the northern region experienced seventeen firefights.

Puller was pulled from the field in February; he had incurred severe skin ulcers on both legs.  He was on light duty for over a month while undergoing medical treatment.  In spite of this debilitation, which Gunnery Sergeant Lee described as “bad,” Puller continued to work as a staff officer and supernumerary.  He supervised escort missions to the aviation field outside of Jinotega, or led half-way patrols to nearby outposts to transfer personnel or deliver supplies.

On 31 March, Managua experienced a significant earthquake.  Within two minutes, the entire city was devastated.  In the aftermath, fires broke out and raged through the rubble for several days.  The Marine Brigade joined the Guardia in a massive rescue effort: fighting fires, providing medical treatment to the injured, digging out trapped Nicaraguans, and feeding the homeless.  Of the city’s 35,000 inhabitants, ten percent were injured, another five percent were killed outright or later died of injuries.

Puller was detached from the Central Area on 2 April to help convey relief supplies into the capital city from Jinotega; he remained in the city until 20 April leading the graves registration effort.  Two weeks later, Puller was back in Jinotega.  He was assigned one last patrol toward Poteca, formerly the stronghold of Captain Merritt Edson and his Coco River Patrol.  The withdrawal of Marines without Guardia replacements had left this area unprotected and available intelligence suggested that Sandino might be located in this region.  Puller discovered that it had been so long since patrols operated in this area that the trails were once more overgrown with vegetation.

Puller’s patrol reached the Rio Cua on 9 May and then proceeded southeast along its banks.  At mid-morning, four bandits appeared in canoes near a bend in the river.  The opposing efforts spotted each other at about the same time, but quick reaction among the Guardia resulted in two rebel deaths.  The remaining two escaped. Having captured the canoes and two weapons, Puller noted the absence of food and surmised that a bandit camp must be nearby.  Puller continued his march up the river to the mouth of the Rio Kilande, where his point man discovered a large abandoned bandit camp.  Company M torched nine buildings and a large quantity of supplies and equipment, including several pole-climbing kits, which Puller guessed had been taken from the Marine patrol the previous December.

Puller then ordered his patrol to backtrack to the Rio Cua, where he joined up with another patrol along the river.  The next morning, the combined force moved north along the Rio Coco, but high water forced the Guardia to cut a new path through thick vegetation on higher ground.  Puller returned to Jinotega on13 May having averaged 16 miles each day.

Puller’s 30-month tour of duty was drawing to a close.  With orders to attend professional schooling at the US Army’s Infantry School, Puller departed Nicaragua on 12 June.  His last official act was to recommend Gunnery Sergeant Lee for an appointment as a Marine Gunner (Warrant Officer).  Subsequently, Puller was awarded the Nicaragua’s highest military decoration (Presidential Medal of Merit).  Lieutenant Colonel McDougal rated Puller as, “… the most active patrol leader in the Guardia.”  Colonel Smith observed, “[Puller] is an excellent officer in every respect.  Possesses highest moral and physical courage, persistence, patience, loyalty, endurance, and sound common sense.  He is one of the best officers I have ever known.”

The citizens of Jinotega were not happy to see Lieutenant Puller transferred —they petitioned the Marines to allow him to stay in Nicaragua.  They referred to Puller as the Terror of the Banditos and Tiger of the Mountains.  El Tigre had earned more than a nickname in Nicaragua … he became one of the Marine Corps’ best junior combat leaders.

But Puller wasn’t done in Nicaragua … he would be back for another tour.

(To be continued)

 

Marines in Nicaragua, Part IX

El Tigre is out of his cage

The rebel camp was located in an excellent position along a ridge bisecting the trail.   Deciding on a double envelopment maneuver, Puller ordered two-thirds of the company into a frontal assault, while he and a dozen guardias executed a flanking movement.  The bandits thwarted the attack by fleeing on their horses after firing a few rounds. Lieutenant Puller pursued the band, eventually forcing the bandits to abandon their mounts in order to make better time over difficult terrain.  Puller called off the chase at nightfall. A large quantity of equipment was found in the area of the rebel camp, including fifty-two animals, two rifles, and food rations.  Puller burned anything that could not be carried back to his base, returning there on 21 August.  For their gallantry under fire, Colonel McDougal recommended Puller and Lee for the Navy Cross.

Puller and Lee continued offensive operations into September.  A three-day patrol departed Jinotega on 28 August, and within nine-hours of their return, set out again for a nine-hour sortie.  Puller and Lee both led small patrols two nights later, which were likely security ambushes just outside the town.

On 5th September, Puller and Lee departed Jinotega with thirty-five men, and joined up with another twenty-three guardias from Corinto Finca.  Their initial destination was in the region of Mt. Guapinol.  In the absence of any sign of bandits, Puller ordered Lee and part of his men back to base.  Puller continued on with 35 guardias heading southeast toward Río Gusanero.

Puller and his men discovered a well-used path on 10 September and followed it.  The next morning, Puller sighted a rebel camp.  Since the terrain prohibited any off-track movement, Puller ordered an immediate assault.  Surprised rebels scattered, of course, but not before guardias mortally wounded three.  One rebel survived long enough to inform Puller that Sandino had been there a week before.  Puller’s patrol took possession of the normal assortment of weapons; documents confirmed the earlier presence of Sandino.  Due to shortage of rations, Puller decided to return to Jinotega.  Once resupplied, Puller and his company returned to the field for another 30 days.

A new central area commander arrived in mid-October; a seasoned veteran by the name of Julian C. Smith[1].  Smith had a few “new” ideas about the Nicaraguan campaign.  He instructed his subordinates, “Action promptly initiated and rapidly carried through will invariably produce better results under present conditions than plans requiring elaborate preparations and considerable time.”  Smith placed less emphasis on combat patrols, and greater importance on frequent police patrols of fewer men.  He wanted these patrols to safeguard the fincas and rural population.  By protecting the people from rebel depredations, he felt he could win the hearts and minds of the civilian population.  Under these circumstances, there was nowhere the rebels could hide.  Smith reduced Company M from 35 men to 25 and armed them with two BARs, three Thompsons, and six grenade launchers mounted on Springfield Rifles.  The standard rifle continued to be the Krag.

On 6 November, a force of 150 rebels attacked the ten-man garrison at Matiguás.  Held off throughout the night, the rebels abandoned their attack at next light when they ran out of ammunition.  Lieutenant Puller and Lee mustered twenty-one men to search for the rebels, but had no luck in discovering where they had gone.  They did find the trail of about 30 or so rebels who had been terrorizing the people of San Isabel, closing with them on 19 November.  A running gunfight ensued in which several of the rebels were wounded, but made good their escape[2].

On 20 November, Puller and his men reported in to Corinto Finca where they were resupplied with fresh pack animals and supplies.  They left on the same day with orders to check out the report of rebel concentrations commanded by El Patron near Mount Guapinol.  Heavy rain and muddy trails slowed Puller’s progress, but did not deter him.  On 25 November, Puller’s patrol encountered a bandit trail and decided to follow it.  The Guardia eventually sighted about ten rebels resting among some fallen trees.  The moment Puller’s men opened fire, the rebels took off running.  About 1,000 yards further on, Puller discovered a rebel camp consisting of four buildings with well-constructed log barriers in the front, and a hundred-foot cliff in the rear.  The forty or so rebels fought briefly before throwing their belongings (and their wounded) into the ravine, and then climbed down into it themselves using robes and ladders.  These were pulled down after them, preventing Puller and his men from following.  Eventually, one of the Guardia found another way into the gully, which the patrol immediately advanced.  At the bottom of the draw, Puller found two dead bandits and some supplies.  Captured documents also revealed that Puller’s patrol had killed a minor chief during an earlier engagement.  Puller returned to his base on 27 November.

In December, Colonel Smith congratulated Puller and his company for having displayed the qualities of courage, persistence, physical endurance, and patience.  At this small ceremony, Lewis B. Puller received his first Navy Cross medal and was granted a few weeks of R&R.

With Puller on leave, command of the company fell to Guardia Second Lieutenant (Gunnery Sergeant) Lee, who initiated aggressive patrolling on the 12th, 15th, and 19th of December.  Lee’s patrol resulted in four bandits KIA, but Company M had lost its first battle casualty: a private was killed at the engagement at Vencedora —the most severe fight Company M had experienced up to that time.

At Vencedora, Lee and his patrol aggressively attacked a bandit group numbering around two-hundred.  Lee expected the rebels to scatter, as they had always done before, but this time they decided to dance.  The rebel force was buoyed by two Lewis guns and four Thompsons, from which the fire was so intense that it forced Lee to break off their assault and take cover.  The fight lasted for thirty minutes, during which the rebels attempted to employ an envelopment of the Guardia Patrol.  After attacking Lee’s patrol, the rebels quickly retired.  After their second withdrawal, Lee began receiving fire from his flank.  Lee began to consider withdrawal himself in order to avoid being overwhelmed by this superior force.  In desperation, Lee rallied his men and led a new assault on the enemy’s forward position, which caused the rebels to flee the battle site.

At the end of 1930, the war in Nicaragua was beginning to take on a new and deadlier character.

(To be Continued)

Notes

[1] Smith served in the Marines from 1909 to 1946, retiring as a lieutenant general.  Serving for more than 37 years, Smith participated in the battles of Veracruz, occupation of Nicaragua, and in World War II commanded the Marines at Tarawa and Peleliu.

[2] In his book Chesty, Colonel Jon Hoffman explained the difficulty of operating in the jungles of Nicaragua.  At one point, Puller’s company was well-concealed at an ambush site along the trail.  Suddenly, the manager of a local finca walked up to where Puller was concealed and began to engage him in conversation about where Puller might find the rebels.  The man knew exactly where to find Puller, which educated Puller to the fact that the enemy was always well-informed about Guardia Nacional operations.  Captured letters from Sandino warned the elements of his army of pending Guardia operations, telling them when the operations would commence and what areas the rebel forces should avoid.  Apparently, local telegraph operators were one source of Sandino’s expanded intelligence network.

 

A PERONAL AFFRONT

In 1950, President Harry S. Truman authorized the establishment of the United States Advisory Group, Vietnam and dispatched the Army to Vietnam, ostensibly to advise the French Foreign Legion in their campaign to restore Indochina to the French Empire.  The moral implications of this should be obvious.  Apparently unbeknownst to Washington, however, the French have never willingly accepted anyone’s advice –about anything.  So, the crafty Truman added some cash into the mix: The United States would funnel to the French some $10 million in revenues extorted from the American people, if, in return, the French would heed the advice of their American advisors.

By 1953, at a time when 99% of the American people had never heard of Vietnam, the amount of US military aid to the French had climbed to $350 million.  In 1954, thousands of North Vietnamese began streaming into what became the Republic of (South) Vietnam.  Many of these were refugees who simply did not want to live under an oppressive communist regime, but a large number were Northern agents disguised as refugees.  Their mission was to cause as much disruption in South Vietnam as possible —and this they proceeded to do.

The onslaught was so overwhelming that Ngo Dinh Diem’s Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) couldn’t keep up.  Senior ARVN officers complained that their troops couldn’t find these insurgents.  This wasn’t so much a problem with the ARVN ground troops as it was with cowardly senior officers –men who  were corrupt beyond belief.

Of course, the war never went according to the way the eggheads in Washington DC wanted it to go.  It was all a terrible misunderstanding, of course.  By 1956, the United States was firmly convinced that Ho Chi Minh wanted to seize South Vietnam, which of course he did, and that South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem wanted to defend the South, which of course he didn’t.  Ho and Ngo had the same goal of reunifying Vietnam, albeit under their own presidency.  After 1960, Diem’s true motivations were part of the US government’s greatest lies by omission to those who served in the Vietnam War after 1965.

Vietnamese officials looking for an excuse to do nothing continued to complain about northern insurgents being able to remain cleverly concealed within the lush tropical vegetation.  Stepping to the plate to solve this problem was (then) Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt (later to serve as Chief of Naval Operations), who served in a dual-hatted role as Commander, Naval Forces, Vietnam and Chief, Naval Advisory Group, Vietnam[1].  It was Zumwalt who ordered the use of carcinogens (Agent Orange) to defoliate Vietnam —an act that has had dire consequences to thousands of Vietnam veterans, as well as to his own family[2].

Agent Orange was a powerful mixture of toxic chemicals used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong insurgents, as well as crops that might be used to feed them. The U.S. program of defoliation, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over nearly five million acres of land in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972. Agent Orange, which contained the chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used of the herbicide mixtures (and the most effective).  The results of this use have been the growth of tumors, severe birth defects, rashes, psychological symptoms, and a wide variety of cancers among hapless civilian populations in Vietnam and returning American servicemen and their children.

Exposure to Agent Orange no longer receives as much press attention as it used to, but it has had profound lingering effects as a significant international health issue.  Hundreds of thousands of American servicemen have died, or are still suffering, because of Zumwalt’s chemical bomb.  More than three million Vietnamese are also affected, including more than 150,000 children who were born with serious defects.  When the Vietnamese attempted to sue the US for having used these chemicals, for having caused so much suffering among innocent people, American judges dismissed the case out of hand.

Recently, we’ve lost another fine American.  I’ll call him Jack.  He answered the call to duty and served with distinction in Vietnam during the late-1960s within the US Army’s II Corps tactical zone.  Jack passed away on 10 June 2017; he suffered the effects of Agent Orange for over six years.  He’s at peace now, and no doubt his family much relieved that his suffering has come to an end … but here is a man who literally began dying during the time he served in the deep jungles of Vietnam —and whose name will never appear on the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

If this doesn’t seem right, it’s because it isn’t.

Notes:

[1] In the former position, Zumwalt commanded all “brown water” naval forces serving in Viet Nam, and in the second position he served as the overall commander’s naval advisor.

[2] Zumwalt’s son served in Vietnam as a riverine boat commander; after much suffering, he later died from exposure to Agent Orange and his son (Zumwalt’s grandson) was born with severe physical handicaps.