Lieutenant Colonel Commandant

Franklin Wharton Lieutenant Colonel Commandant
Franklin Wharton
Lieutenant Colonel Commandant

Franklin Wharton was born into a prominent Philadelphia family on July 23, 1767. He had forsaken a successful business career to enter the Marine Corps, receiving a commission to Captain in August 1798. Captain Wharton’s first assignment took him to the Marine Barracks, Philadelphia, but within a few weeks, he was assigned to the frigate USS United States. He commanded the ship’s Marine Detachment until the close of the so-called Quasi-War (1801).

At the age of 36 years and only five years of service as a Marine, Franklin Wharton was appointed Major Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was the third commandant, following Lieutenant Colonel William Ward Burrows I. When the nation’s capital was moved to Washington DC, Wharton was advanced to the rank and position of Lieutenant Colonel Commandant and the first Commandant to occupy the official residence of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, which continues to serve in that capacity.

At the time Wharton assumed his office, the US Navy was engaged with the Barbary Corsairs. The Commandant’s principal task was supplying Marines to serve aboard an increasing number of frigates. At the conclusion of the Barbary Wars, Congress demanded an inflexibly frugal economy. As ships returned from the North African coast, they were either decommissioned or their crews were significantly reduced.

By 1810, the mood inside the Nation’s Capital was grim; there was a war coming, and the difficulties facing the Marine Corps were considerable. Even after the formal commencement of hostilities with the British, Congress refused to increase the size of the Corps. Congress nevertheless expected Wharton to supply Marines for duty at sea; Marines participated in land engagements at Annapolis, Fort McHenry, Portsmouth, Chaney Island, Bladensburg, and in New Orleans.

Funding was not Wharton’s only problem. The Act of 1798 was written in such a way to produce significant confusion from the office of the Secretary of the Navy down through both the Navy and Marine Corps chain of command. The Secretary of War interpreted the legislation to mean that while Marines served aboard ship, they belonged to the Navy; when Marines served ashore, they belonged to the ranking Army commander of that department. Even while at war with Great Britain, Marine officers were placed under arrest and court-martialed for refusing to obey the orders of a senior Army officer. This problem did not “go away” until 1834.

To make matters worse for Wharton, there were a few Marine officers who greatly desired to become Marine Corps Commandant, and one of these in particular began to encourage others to publicly question Wharton’s competence to remain in office. Of concern to a few was Wharton’s “failure to take to the field” as the British approached Washington. In fairness, it was a confusing time. There was no rapid communications, and I am quite certain that Wharton did not know with any degree of certainty the displacement of his forces. With important documents in hand, Wharton and his staff made their way to the Washington Navy Yard. Although instructed by the Secretary of the Navy to rally at Frederick, Maryland, Wharton placed himself at the disposal of Commodore Thomas Tingey, U. S. Navy, and Commandant of the Navy Yard. Tingey instructed Wharton to leave the Navy Yard; he was set to set it afire. Wharton, it was said, seemed confused. He left the Navy Yard by small boat.

One of Wharton’s political enemies, the insubordinate Brevet Major Archibald Henderson, argued that Wharton has injured the good reputation of the Marine Corps. Charges were filed and the Secretary of the Navy ordered a court-martial, which convened on September 20, 1817.

The President of the Court was Colonel William King, 4th Infantry, U. S. Army. Board members included Colonel T. J. Jessup, 3rd Infantry, U. S. Army, Major Richard Smith, USMC, Major J. M. Davis, General Staff, U. S. Army, Captain Robert D. Wainwright, USMC. The Specific charges made by Brevet Major Archibald Henderson were as follows: Charge 1: Neglect. Specification 1, that LtCol Wharton never commanded any parade in the Marine Corps; Specification 2, that LtCol Wharton never commanded any Marine Corps unit in the field; Specification 3, that LtCol Wharton never inspected any Marine Corps unit; Specification 4, that LtCol Wharton neglected to provide Captain Robert D. Wainwright the information he needed to execute the sentence of a courts-martial; and Specification 5, that due to LtCol Wharton’s neglect, Private Peter Moore had been unnecessarily and oppressively held in confinement beyond the end of his enlistment.

The charges were outlandish, of course and LtCol Wharton was acquitted of all charges, but the episode created ill feelings among the Corps’ senior officers. Lieutenant Colonel Wharton died while serving in office a little less than one year later, on September 1, 1818.

Lieutenant Colonel Commandant Wharton did make substantial contributions to the efficient organization of the emerging Marine Corps. For the first time the uniforms and equipment were standardized for all Marines, traditions and practices well established and reinforced, and it was during his command that the United States Marine Corps Band began their award winning tenure as “The President’s Own.” Colonel Wharton is buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church, New York City.

Archibald Henderson did eventually become Commandant of the Marine Corps; a post he held for 39 years —but not before he battled with Major Anthony Gale over the right of succession. Gale was eventually cashiered from the Marine Corps after a year in office but given Henderson’s revolting behavior toward Wharton, we can only imagine what intrigues he might have arranged against Anthony Gale.

Major Levi Twiggs, USMC

Major Levi Twiggs was born in Richmond County, Georgia on 21 May 1793. He was the sixth son of Major General John Twiggs of revolutionary memory, whose patriotic devotion of his person and his purse in the war of independence earned for him an imperishable renown. A faithful son of his country, who at the outset of that unequal contest, raised from his private fortune an effective brigade, which, with his own services, he tendered to the cause of liberty, services which proved most efficient, earning for himself the rank of Major General in our then infant army, and the still higher title of “Savior of Georgia.” The present eminent Major General David E. Twiggs in the fifth son of the same illustrious sire.

1812-1840At the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812, the subject of the present notice, then just having completed his nineteenth year, was desirous of entering the service, but failing to obtain the sanction of his parents at that time, he continued his studies at Athens College in his native state, for some months longer. At length, his military ardor was fanned into an irrepressible flame by the gallant exploits of our little navy, and on learning the news of the capture of the Macedonian frigate, by the United States under Commodore Decatur, he immediately left college, and solicited again his parents consent to apply for an appointment in the Marine Corps, which was now granted. He enter the Corps as second lieutenant on 10 November 1813 and, after a brief sojourn at headquarters, was stationed on the Patuxent with the troops which were posted there to oppose the passage of the British fleet, then hovering along the coast of the Chesapeake, which he displayed the energy of character and good conduct which ever after distinguished him. From this duty, Lieutenant Twiggs was ordered to join the frigate [1] President, commanded by Commodore Decatur, on her last memorable cruise under our flag. She sailed from New York on the 14th of January 1815, and soon after encountered a British fleet, consisting of the Majestic razee [2], the Endymion, Tenedos, and Pomona frigates, and a gun brig, and was captured after a most gallant defense —one of the opposing frigates, the Endymion, having been first disabled and her fire silenced in full view of the other ships of the hostile squadron.

By some untoward accident, the senior Marine officer did not sail in the President, and that arm of the service was commanded on this occasion by Lieutenant Twiggs —who by this time had attained the grade of first lieutenant—with such consummate skill and gallantry as to elicit the warmest applause of his commander, and to obtain honorable mention of his name in the commodore’s official dispatches. Lieutenant Twiggs’ command numbered fifty-six men, who, as is stated in Mackenzie’s Naval History, discharged during the action five thousand cartridges, and whose fire was pronounced by Commodore Decatur “incomparable.”

The officers of the President were detained as prisoners of war in Bermuda, until news of the peace reached there, when they returned to their country.

From that period until 1823, Lieutenant Twiggs was attached to the New York station, from whence in that year he was ordered to Philadelphia, having in 1822 united himself in marriage to a daughter of the deceased Captain McKnight, of the Marine Corps, and a niece of Commodore Decatur —the afflicted lady who now deplores his death. In 1824, he was ordered to the frigate Constellation under Commodore Warrington, to cruise among the West India islands, in which service he was absent nearly two years. On his return he was again attached to the Navy Yard at Philadelphia, having been advanced to captain by brevet during his absence, on 3 May 1825.

In November 1825, he was placed in command of Marines at the Norfolk Navy Yard.

In June 1826, Captain Twiggs was ordered to Florida, where he was engaged in the Seminole War until the month of April following, discharging the constant and very arduous duties attendant upon a war with wandering savages, marked by all the perils of treachery and ambuscades, and the more fatal dangers of a pestilential climate, and every species of suffering and exposure.

From the period of his return from Florida until 1843, having obtained the rank of major on the 15th of November 1840, he was from time to time, placed in command of Marines at the several stations of Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, discharging his duty at every post, and on all occasions, to the entire satisfaction of the Navy Department, and of the local authorities and citizens with whom he had either official or personal intercourse.

In 1843, Major Twiggs assumed command of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where he proved himself worthy of the rank and station which his gallantry and long services had earned, by the scrupulous discharge of every detail of his duty as an officer, and no less by his amiable, manly, and exceptionable bearing as a good citizen and high-bred gentleman. During the long period of 34 years’ service, he never but once asked a leave of absence, and then on account of the illness of a member of his family, when he was off duty but a single week.

Battle_of_ChapultepecOn the 2nd of June 1847, Major Twiggs departed for Mexico, having solicited active service. On the 20th of June, he arrived at Vera Cruz. On the 16th of July, he left for the interior with General Pierce’s brigade and reached Puebla on the 6th of August, which place he left with Major General Quitman’s division, a few days after, and on the 13th of September he fell, at the head of his command, leading them to the assault at the storming of Chapultepec; pierced by a bullet through the heart.

Of the details of the operations in which Major Twiggs was engaged, as well on the march to the Mexican capital as on the bloody fields in its neighborhood, no precise accounts have yet been received. We only know that, whilst in the performance of the proudest duty of a soldier, his brave spirit took its flight.

Of an imposing presence and noble mien, he was the personification of courage; dauntless himself, he infused the same quality into all his followers, performing the duties of his profession with a zeal that never flagged, and a singleness of purpose that considered no obstacle. Tenderly alive to the domestic sympathies, he sacrificed them all to his sense of duty to his country. This sentiment was uppermost in his heart. When he left home, therefore, upon his last tour of service, like a wise and good man, he made all his worldly arrangements, based upon the probability that he would never return, whilst he studiously avoided alluding to them to his family.

The death of his gallant son, George Decatur Twiggs, who fell a volunteer in Major Lally’s command at the National Bridge, on the 12th of August, on the way to join his uncle the general, whose aid he was to become, had already excited a sincere and deep-felt sympathy for the bereaved mother. Having but just entered his twentieth year, a young of the finest talents, and with the brightest prospects, already distinguished in the walks of literature, and pursuing his legal studies with the zeal inseparable from an ardent temperament, he also, true to his blood—the commingled blood of heroes, which flowed in his veins—panted for martial fame. In one action, he had already gained the applause of his commander; in the next, whilst activity discharging the duty of a lieutenant in the place of one who had just fallen, the fatal missile of the enemy cut him off in the flower of his age.

“As some fair tree which erst the forest graced

And charmed the eye by blooming vines embraced,

Prone on the earth, a lovely ruin, east,

Yields to the lightning’s stroke, or tempest’s blast!”

Of the many brave men who have laid down their lives for their country’s honour during the existing war, none fought more gallantly, nor died more nobly, than did these kindred spirits—the father, and the son. Neither has it pleased an all-wise Providence to call hence on any of those battlefields, recently rendered immortal by the achievements of our heroic soldiers, a more worthy and well-tried citizen than the one, nor a youth of brighter promise than the other.

Well appreciated by his friends, to whom he was endeared, as well as by his own virtues as those of his estimable wife, the news of the fall of Major Twiggs, almost coincident as it was with that of his son, has created a deep sensation of universal sorrow and sympathy. Generous, humane, social, affectionate, and with a soul of chivalry, he was swayed by the gentlest emotions; considerate to those under his command, without any relaxation of discipline, he was the friend of the soldier, and was rewarded by the soldier’s obedience and devotion. As an officer, long holding most responsible and arduous stations, his conduct always elicited the applause of his superiors; and in all the social relations, and more especially in those of domestic life, his deportment may be pronounced to have been faultless. Of scrupulous integrity, he was conscientious in the discharge even of his minutest duties: a tender and affectionate husband, a most kind and indulgent parent, leaving a wife and three daughters to lament his loss. Alas, it is to those widowed and orphaned hearts that his many virtues are best known, and by them that they will be most fondly cherished; hearts crushed beneath a weight of affliction which few are called upon to bear, for scarcely had they begun to recover from the shock of the loss of a son and brother, before this last stunning blow fell upon them like a thunderbolt. Let them be considered henceforth as the widow and children of the nation, for to their ease the annals of war, with its aggravated horrors, can scarcely produce a parallel. To their prior bereavements it would be out of place to refer here. But that gracious Being, who has seen fit to visit them with such grievous afflictions, will not fail to comfort and uphold them in this our of their bitter trial.

Among the testimonials of respect from senior officers, and different friends, was the following order dated from the Adjutant and Inspector’s Office, Washington on 20 November 1947, and addressed to Captain J. G. Williams, commanding Marines at Philadelphia:

“The Commandant of the Marine Corps with profound and cordial sorrow, announces to the officers and soldiers the death of Major Levi Twiggs, while leading his command to victory and glory, on the 13th September, under the walls of the city of Mexico. In his loss the Corps has to mourn for a gallant officer, who has passed all of his young in its ranks, and his country for an estimable and patriotic citizen, and those who knew him most intimately, for a valued friend and a high-minded gentleman.”

“The usual badge of mourning will be worn for him by the officers of the Corps for one month, and the flag at headquarters will be half-masted tomorrow.”

“By order of Brevet Brigadier General Commandant.”

___________

Off additional interest:

  1. Levi Twiggs was the great uncle of John Twiggs Meyers, the topic of two previous stories of the Corps.
  2. Marine Corps participation in the Battle of Chapultepec and subsequent occupation of Mexico City are memorialized by the opening lines of the U. S. Marine Corps hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma…”
  3. In acknowledgment of the Marine officers and NCOs who died in the Battle of Chapultepec, all officers and NCOs have worn a pronounced red stripe on the trousers of the Dress Blue uniform since 1849. It is commonly referred to as the “blood stripe.”
  4. Among the captains and majors who participated in the Mexican American War were the generals commanding both Union and Confederate armies in the American Civil War, including Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Picket, James Longstreet, and Thomas Jackson.
  5. The entire account (above) was taken word for word from a work published in 1848 by Grigg, Elliot & Company, publishers, entitled The Mexican War and its Heroes.

Footnotes

[1] In the 18th and early 19th Century, a frigate was a ship of war equivalent in length to a ship of the line, but lightly armored, possessing only 28 guns, faster, and used for patrolling and escorting ships of the line.

[2] A razee is a ship that has undergone modifications of original construct, reducing the number of decks, guns, and ship’s company. HMS Majestic was commissioned in 1785 with 74 guns, razeed in 1813 to become a large frigate with 58 guns.