Marines during the Civil War

Five U.S. Marine Corps privates with fixed bayonets under the command of their noncommissioned officer (NCO), who displays his M1859 Marine NCO sword. Navy Yard, Washington, DC, April 1864.

Posted on March 26, 2012 at 09:35 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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This Week in American Military History

From W. Thomas Smith, Jr.’s series at Human Events:

Mar. 8, 1965: The lead elements of 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines begin coming ashore at Da Nang, South Vietnam. Within hours, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines will arrive aboard transport aircraft at the nearby airbase. The Marines of 3/9 and 1/3 – both part of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade – are the first of America’s ground-combat forces destined for offensive operations against the enemy in Southeast Asia, once again putting teeth in the Marine Corps’ claim that it is “first to fight.”

Mar. 9, 1847: Thousands of American soldiers and a company-sized force of Marines (though referred to as a battalion) under the overall command of U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott and “Home Squadron” Commodore David E. Conner begin landing at Collado Beach, Mexico, just south of Vera Cruz.

In what will prove to be “a model” for future amphibious operations, the landings are unprecedented: The largest American amphibious operation to date, conducted in less than five hours without a single loss of life.

A portion of Conner’s dispatch to the Secretary of the Navy reads:

“Gen. Scott has now with him upwards of 11,000 men. At his request, I permitted the Marines of the squadron, under Capt. [Alvin] Edson, to join him, as a part of the 3rd Regiment of artillery. The general-in-chief landed this morning, and the army put itself in motion at an early hour, to form its lines around the city. There has been some distant firing of shot and shells from the town and castle upon the troops as they advanced, but without result.”

Though the landings are bloodless, grim fighting will continue in the Mexican-American War.
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This Week in American Military History

Military Milestones from Apache Pass to Patch’s Dispatch
By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
Feb. 9, 1943:  U.S. Adm. William F. “Bull” Halsey receives the following message from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Alexander M. “Sandy” Patch:
The campaign launched by U.S Marines and sailors in August 1942, and fought by Army, Navy, and Marine forces (and allies) over a six-month period, has resulted in the decisive defeat of Japanese forces on-and-near the island of Guadalcanal. The close of the campaign also ends the first major American offensive of World War II.

Feb. 10, 1763:  The Treaty of Paris is signed ending the Seven Years War, known as the French and Indian War in the North American colonies. For America – militarily speaking – the war strengthens Great Britain’s territorial dominance and strategic supremacy in North America. The war also serves as the conflict prior to the American Revolution in which many future Continental Army commanders cut their teeth.

Feb. 10, 1962:  In a dramatic Cold War prisoner swap between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers is exchanged for Soviet spy Rudolph Ivanovich Abel on the Glienecker Bridge between West Berlin and Potsdam in East Germany.

Powers is a former U.S. Air Force officer who had been flying U-2s for the CIA when he was shot down over the Soviet Union and captured in May 1960.  Abel, a KGB colonel, had been arrested in New York in 1957 and convicted of espionage activities against the United States.

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Military Milestones from Cowpens to ‘Gratitude’

From W. Thomas Smith, Jr.‘s This Week in American Military History Series:

Jan. 12, 1945: Warplanes from the U.S. Navy’s carrier Task Force 38 under the command of Vice Adm. John Sidney McCain Sr. (father of Adm. John S. McCain Jr. and grandfather of Sen. John S. McCain III), attack enemy convoys and bases along the coast of Japanese-held French Indochina (Vietnam) in the Battle of the South China Sea.

Codenamed “Operation Gratitude,” the attacks are wildly successful. Despite rough seas and high winds from a dangerously close typhoon, Japanese bases at Saigon, Cape Saint Jacques (Vung Tau), Cam Ranh Bay, Qui Nhon, and Tourane Bay (Da Nang) are hit hard, resulting in the destruction of docks, barracks, weapons depots, hangars, and scores of Japanese seaplanes and other aircraft, as well as the sinking of more than 40 enemy ships.

Adm. McCain – who Adm. William “Bull” Halsey refers to as “”not much more than my right arm” – will die of a heart attack on Sept. 6, 1945, four days after witnessing the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard USS Missouri. He is posthumously awarded a fourth star.

Jan 13, 1865: U.S. soldiers, sailors, and Marines under the joint command of Maj. Gen. Alfred Howe Terry and Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter begin landing operations – in what will prove to be the largest American amphibious operation until World War II – aimed at seizing Fort Fisher, N.C., a Confederate stronghold near the port city of Wilmington.

The fort — commanded by Confederate Col. William Lamb (the fort’s ultimate responsibility was that of Gen. Braxton Bragg, and yes, Fort Bragg, N.C. is named in his honor) – will fall to Union forces within two days.

More than 50 Medals of Honor will be awarded to those who participated in the assault.

Jan. 14, 1784: The U.S. Congress, temporarily meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, ratifies the Treaty of Paris, officially ending America’s War of Independence.

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Posted on January 18, 2010 at 12:13 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Military Milestones from Bloody Betio to Mao’s Death Warrant

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Chinese Premier Mao Tse-Tung: “The American Marine First Division has the highest combat effectiveness in the American armed forces.”

By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

Originally published at Human Events

This Week in American Military History:

Nov. 23, 1863:  The battles of the Chattanooga campaign begin between newly appointed commander of the Western armies, Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg (yes, Fort Bragg, N.C. is named in his honor).

Within days, Union Army forces will attack and capture Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain, and the Confederate works on Missionary Ridge. The “Gateway to the Lower South” will open, and within a year, Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman will pass through the “gateway” enroute to Atlanta.

Nov. 23, 1943:  Japanese-held Tarawa — “an elongated, sharply curving chain of little islands with a heavily defended southwest tip” known to U.S. Marines as “bloody Betio” — falls to American forces despite the boast of its defending commander, Rear Adm. Keiji Shibasaki, that “a million men could not take Tarawa in a hundred years.”

In fact, it takes several thousand Marines and about 76 hours to seize Tarawa. But it is not without great cost. Marine casualties (including sailors) number over 1,020 killed and nearly 2,300 wounded. Many are lost during the first few hours of the fighting as the landing craft are unable to get ashore, and Marines (carrying all of their equipment) are forced to wade toward the beach, stumbling over jagged coral reef for several hundred yards — some falling into deep holes and drowning — all the time under withering fire.

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Military Milestones from Tippecanoe to Roosevelt’s Patrol

By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
This Week in American Military History:

Nov. 1, 1904: The new U.S. Army War College opens its doors to three majors and six captains, among them Capt. (future General of the Armies) John J. “Black Jack” Pershing.

According to Samuel J. Newland writing for Parameters, during the college’s formative years, “the instructional methodology … was reminiscent of the Prussian system of training general staff officers.”

Nov. 2, 1783: Gen. George Washington delivers his “Farewell Address to the Army” near Princeton, N.J., in which he refers to the Continental Army as “one patriotic band of brothers.”

Of his soldiers, whom he says displayed “invincible fortitude in action,” Washington offers his “prayers to the God of Armies,” adding that “may the choicest of Heaven’s favors both here and hereafter attend those, who under the divine auspices have secured innumerable blessings for others.”

Nov. 5, 1915: Nearly five years to the day after aviation pioneer Eugene B. Ely makes the first airplane takeoff from a ship, Lt. Commander (future Capt.) Henry Mustin becomes the first American to make a catapult launch from a ship underway. Mustin is catapulted from USS North Carolina (the second of six so-named American warships, including one submarine and one Confederate ironclad) in a Curtiss AB-2 flying boat.

Mustin, considered in some circles to be the “father of Naval aviation,” is also the grand patriarch of the Mustin Naval dynasty.

Of that dynasty, Capt. Louis Colbus (U.S. Navy, Ret.) former commander of Destroyer Squadron Two and the former chief of staff for Carrier Battle Group Eight, says, “Mustin flag-officers and others have led our Navy for nearly a century from aviation firsts to shipbuilding design and concepts to nuclear testing at the South Pole to battle-group tactics at sea, and at the same time inspiring generations of American sailors.”

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Posted on November 6, 2009 at 11:12 by Chris Carter · Permalink · Leave a comment
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Military Milestones from Humphrey’s Solo to Thornton’s Swim

In his “This Week in American Military History” series at Human Events this week, W. Thomas Smith Jr. mentions the anniversary of Navy SEAL Michael Thornton’s amazing battle with the North Vietnamese Army:

Oct. 31, 1972: U.S. Navy SEAL Petty Officer (future lieutenant) Michael E. Thornton; his commanding officer, Lt. Thomas R. Norris; and three South Vietnamese Naval commandos are conducting an intelligence-collection and prisoner-snatch operation deep behind enemy lines when they are discovered by a force that outnumbers them at least 10 to one.

Fierce, close fighting ensues. Thornton and Norris are both wounded, Norris badly.

As the team begins a fighting withdrawal toward the beach, Thornton learns that Norris is down, perhaps dead.

Thornton races back through a hailstorm of enemy fire to find and retrieve his commander — dead or alive.

Thornton finds Norris, kills two enemy soldiers who are standing over his wounded commander, then hoists Norris onto his shoulders and sprints back toward the beach for several hundred yards under heavy enemy fire.

When he hits the surf, Thornton ties Norris to his own body and starts swimming. When he sees one of the South Vietnamese commandos shot in the hip and unable to swim, Thornton grabs him too; swimming both men out to sea for more than two hours before they are rescued.

For his actions, Thornton will receive the Medal of Honor.

Norris will survive and receive the Medal himself for a previous action.

I did a radio show on Mike Thornton in January, and the transcript is available here.

The remainder of the article can be found at Human Events or by clicking below.

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From the Navy’s Birthday to Black Thursday

LCdr. Virgil C. "Squash" Griffin becomes the first man to take off from an aircraft carrier in 1922.

LCdr. Virgil C. "Squash" Griffin becomes the first man to take off from an aircraft carrier in 1922.

This Week in American Military History (by W. Thomas Smith Jr.):

Oct. 12, 1862: Confederate cavalry commander Gen. James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart completes his “second ride” around Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac.

Oct. 13, 1775: Happy Birthday U.S. Navy!

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command:

“…meeting in Philadelphia, the Continental Congress voted to fit out two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a cruise of three months to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores to the British army in America.

“This was the original legislation out of which the Continental Navy grew and as such constitutes the birth certificate of the navy.”

Oct. 14, 1943: In what will become known as “Black Thursday,” U.S. Army Air Force B-17 Flying Fortresses – elements of the famed 8th Air Force – attack the ball-bearing plants (critical to Germany’s aviation industry) at the heavily defended Bavarian city of Schweinfurt. Though the raid is successful, scores of bombers – and more than 600 airmen – are lost.

According to Bruce Crawford writing for Aviation History magazine: “There is not much there to commemorate the carnage that took place overhead so many years ago, and that is too bad, because Schweinfurt should rank with Pickett’s Charge, Bataan, Chosin and other battlefields as an epic of American heroism. As it is, we can only look at grainy wartime pictures of the bombers going down in flames, and try to imagine what it was like for the men trapped inside.”

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Military Milestones from Blood Stripes to Bloody Ridge

This Week in American Military History (by W. Thomas Smith Jr.):

Sept. 13, 1814:  From the deck of a Royal Navy ship aboard which he has been detained, Washington, D.C. lawyer Francis Scott Key pens his now-famous poem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” on an envelope as he witnesses the British night-bombardment of Fort McHenry, Baltimore during the War of 1812.

It will be more than a century before the U.S. Congress adopts “The Star Spangled Banner” as the official national anthem.

Sept. 13, 1847:  U.S. Army and Marine forces (including lots of future Civil War generals like Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, George Pickett, Pierre G.T. Beauregard, Thomas J. Jackson, Joseph E. Johnston, Ulysses S. Grant, future Admiral Raphael Semmes, and I’m probably leaving out a few) participate in the storming of Chapultepec Castle during the Mexican War.

Chapultepec defends Mexico City, which will fall on the 14th.

For those of us fortunate enough since to claim the title, “Marine,” the taking of Chapultepec and ultimately Mexico City will give us two things:

First: The first five words of our hymn: “From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli …”

Second: The “blood” red stripe along the seams of our dress-blue uniform trousers (Marines don’t wear pants).

The origin of the blood stripe is more tradition than absolute fact. But we Marines heartily claim it. According to tradition, the blood stripe represents the blood shed by Marines storming Chapultepec. And the reason only corporals and above are authorized to wear the stripe is because there was such a high percentage of NCOs and officers killed in the storming of the castle.

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Military Milestones from the King’s Proclamation to Richie’s MiG

By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

Originally published at Human Events

Rear Admiral David Farragut

Rear Admiral David Farragut

This Week in American Military History:

Aug. 23, 1775: Less than two months after the Second Continental Congress issues its “Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms [against the British]” in which the Congress resolves “to die free men rather than live as slaves,” King George III issues his own proclamation declaring the American colonies to be in a state of rebellion.

The king adds, “not only all our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmost endeavours to suppress such rebellion, and to bring the traitors to justice, but that all our subjects of this Realm, and the dominions thereunto belonging, are bound by law to be aiding and assisting in the suppression of such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all traitorous conspiracies and attempts against us, our crown and dignity.”

Aug. 23, 1864: Union Naval forces under the command of Adm. David Glasgow Farragut — best known for purportedly uttering the command, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” — take Fort Morgan, effectively ending the near-month-long battle of Mobile Bay.

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