Brigadier General Archibald Henderson

By The Historical Section - Originally Published June 1929

The Record for length of service as Commandant of the Marine Corps is held by Archibald Henderson. That officer was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel Commandant of the Marine Corps on October 17, 1820, and served as Commandant in the three successive grades, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel and Brigadier General (brevet rank) until his death on January 6, 1859, a total of 38 years, 2 months and 19 days.

With reference to the early life and service of Archibald Henderson; he was born at Colchester, Fairfax County, Virginia, on January 21, 1783. He was appointed a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on June 4, 1806; promoted to first lieutenant March 6, 1807; promoted to captain April 1, 1811; and a major, by brevet, in 1814.

Captain Henderson served in the War of 1812, on the U. S. Frigate Constitution, was in the engagement between that vessel and the Java December 29, 1812, and in the engagements with the Cyane and Levant on February 20, 1815. He received a silver medal and was included in the thanks of Congress to officers and men of the Constitution for their gallant service. He was later presented with a jeweled sword by the State of Virginia, containing the following inscription:

"Presented by the State of Virginia to Colonel Archibald Henderson, of the Marine Corps of the United States, in testimony of the high sense entertained by his native state of his gallantry and good conduct in the capture of the Cyane and Levant by the frigate Constitution on the 20th February, 1815, and his patriotic service generally during the war with Great Britain. Honor to the brave."

For a time during the year 1813 Captain Henderson was in command of the Marines stationed at Boston, Mass.

During the years subsequent to the second war with Great Britain, until the year he was appointed Commandant, General Henderson (then a major, brevet rank) was on duty at such important stations as Boston, Mass., Portsmouth, N. H., Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, and at New Orleans, La.

The years 1820 to 1835, inclusive, were marked by no very unusual or outstanding activities on the part of the Marine Corps, other than its part in the suppression of piracy in the West Indies.

However, in the war with the Seminole and Creek Indians in 1836-37, in which the Marine Corps took such an active part, the gallant soldier, Colonel Commandant Henderson, at the head of that arm of the service, went in person into the field with a part of his command, and personally shared in the dangers and exposures of the campaign, and was promoted for his services in checking Indian hostilities.

After this, no wars until the breaking out of the Mexican War, which was preceded by much military activity on the part of the Marine Corps during the years 1845-1846 on the West Coast and in California. During these operations and the war following, General Henderson ably administered the affairs of the Marine Corps in the very important part it took, both on land and on sea. The success attained by the Corps in the war operations, and otherwise, including its expansion and development from a comparatively small but efficient fighting force into a well recognized and very formidable arm of the nation's military forces was due in no small measure to the leadership and ability of its Commandant.

During the years subsequent to the Mexican War and prior to the Civil War, the Marine Corps, under the ever watchful eye and direction of its venerable Commandant (who, by this time, it has been jocularly said had come to regard the Marine Corps as "his own"), was by no means an idle organization.

In 1852-53 the Marines took part in the famous expeditions of Commodore Perry to Japan; in 1855, participated in an expedition to Uruguay, as a result of an insurrection at Montevideo; in 1856, had an engagement or so with Indians at Seattle, Washington Territory; also during this same year, 1856, took part in the capture of the Barrier Forts in China.

In the year 1857 during the "Know Nothing" political excitement, Marines were ordered, upon the request of the Mayor of Washington, to suppress an armed mob of rowdies from Baltimore which had overawed the police. During the suppression of this riot, when a cannon was put into position by a large crowd of "Plug Uglies" and others who threatened that unless the Marines were instantly withdrawn the piece would be discharged into their ranks, "General Henderson deliberately went up to the piece and placed his body against the muzzle, thereby preventing it from being aimed at the Marines, just at the moment when it was about to be discharged."

During the year 1858, the last full year which General Henderson lived and served as Commandant, the Marines, in addition to their other duties, participated in the expedition to the Fiji Islands.

On January 6, 1859, General Henderson died suddenly. His death was deeply lamented by the entire Marine Corps, and thousands of others, by whom he was held in the highest esteem.

The Washington Evening Star of January 10, 1859, in an account of the funeral of General Henderson, which took place at 1 p. m., that date, states that "the services were held at the Marine Barracks, the interment being in the Congressional Cemetery. In addition to all high officers of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, the funeral was attended by the President of the United States, with his cabinet."

General Henderson left six children,-three married daughters and three sons. One son was, at this time, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, he having served for several years as his father's aide, but who was at the time of his father's death with the Marines in the expedition to Paraguay.

As is generally well known, Navy Transport No. 1-HENDERSON-was named in memory of Brigadier General Archibald Henderson, U. S. Marine Corps.