Send Me Thirty Marines... Part I

By Richard A. Long - Originally Published April 1961

Although small, the Corps had men at every post and station of the Union Navy

While it was Ulysses S. Grant's star which shone the brightest following the battle of Vicksburg, his great victory in the west would not have been possible but for the brilliant naval tactics of Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter. A grateful Congress lauded Adm Porter for "opening the Mississippi river."

In November 1863, Adm Porter was commanding the Union's Mississippi Squadron at Cairo, Ill., holding responsibility not only for the tactical operations of that fleet, but also for the logistical welfare of his command. Huge stockpiles of war materials were cached up and down the rivers, one and all of which required the services of a professional group of men to safeguard them. His experience and serenity of mind were evidently shaken by the sorry stature of the volunteer militia provided him for this purpose.

In desperation, he wrote to Colonel Commandant John Harris in Washington, pleading ". . . if you will send me by hook or crook, thirty Marines I shall be your debtor."

Despite the critical shortage of even enough Marines to satisfy the requirements of the Secretary of the Navy to man major vessels of the fleet, Harris' vanity must have been touched, for within two months, two lieutenants and 40 Marines were dispatched to Mound City, Ill., to guard stores of the Mississippi fleet.

Primarily, Marines of the Civil War era were automatically destined for duty with the fleet, manning the secondary guns in battle, and maintaining order and discipline at all times within the crew. Total strength of the United States Marine Corps in this conflict never exceeded 3800 officers and men. Yet, this strength was thinly spread to the four corners of the world, as well as in nearly every naval post and station in the Union, and many were in the hold-out forts of the hostile Confederacy.

Amazingly enough, sufficient Marines were assembled, most of them raw recruits handling a musket as though it were a live bomb-to establish a battalion to operate with the Army of the Potomac early in the war. In time, through hard drill, strict discipline, and faith in Marine Corps traditions, this force was welded into a semi-permanent amphibious unit which exhibited a degree of flexibility for operations equally well on land as on the sea.

Thus, then, a Corps of Marines served the Republic during the agonizing Civil War years. Its contributions were small in comparison with its latter-day roles in the global holocausts of this century. But serve they did, with honor, and in many instances, valor.

What was the nature of their service?

5 Jan 1861:
Forty Marines, under the command of Captain Algernon S. Taylor, garrisoned Fort Washington, Md., on the Potomac River, 14 miles south of Washington.

Colonel Commandant John Harris was ordered by the Secretary of the Navy to dispatch this force "to protect public property." Capt Taylor chose his men from those stationed at the Washington Navy Yard and, with rations for 15 days, attempted to prepare embrasures for mounting howitzers. Fort Washington had not been actively maintained for a number of years, rendering it in considerable disrepair. Taylor was genuinely doubtful of the ability of 40 Marines to hold the bastion for any length of time but, despite his pleas, no reinforcements were received.

9 Jan 1861:
Thirty Marines, from the Washington Navy Yard, under the command of First Lieutenant Andrew J. Hays, garrisoned Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Md.

Lt Hays had orders from the Commandant to merely occupy the fort until relieved by Army troops, at which time he was to return to Washington. On the following day, Colonel Harvey Brown, U. S. Army, attached the Marines to his command. A telegram from the Secretary of the Navy, however, obtained the release and return of the force. Hays reported "the detachment as having behaved remarkably well, obeying all orders promptly and cheerfully; which is saying a great deal for recruits in this inclement weather."

12 Jan 1861:
Surrender of the Warrington Navy Yard, Pensacola, Fla., with its 38 Marines under the command of Captain Josiah Watson.

Captain James Armstrong, USN, surrendered the 250 men garrisoning the Yard without a fight. Self-styled Commissioners of Florida and a force of seven rebel companies from Florida and Alabama compelled the capitulation. The Marine Detachment was transported to New York from 16 January to 4 February by the U. S. Storeship Supply, Capt Watson making his way north overland at a later date.

14 Jan - Feb 1861:
In anticipation of trouble developing in the Capitol area, the Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard created a defense of the premises by manning howitzers with Marines.

22 Jan 1861:
Marine Guard of the Brooklyn Nary Yard was put under arms and held in readiness to act in case of an organized attack by Confederate sympathizers.

12 Apr 1861:
Second Lieutenant John C. Cash, USMC, later Paymaster of the Corps, commanded 110 Marines who reinforced Fort Pickens, Fla., one of the southern forts garrisoned throughout the Civil War.

20 Apr 1861:
The Gosport (Norfolk, Va.) Navy Yard was partially destroyed, thus denying its full use to Confederate forces. Among the force were the 3d Massachusetts Regiment; 100 Marines from Washington aboard the USS Pawnee, commanded by First Lieutenant Augustus S. Nicholson; a detachment of 125 Marines, under Lieutenant Colonel James Edelin, and the Marine Guards from the USS Cumberland and the USS Pennsylvania.

20 Apr 1861:
A Marine Guard of 20 men, under the command of First Lieutenant Julius E. Meiere, USMC, was furnished the USS Anacostia of the Washington Navy Yard.

6 May 1861:
The name of Captain Algernon S, Taylor, who doubted the effective strength of Fort Washington, was stricken, by order of the President, from the rolls of the Marine Corps.

Capt Taylor submitted his resignation from Winchester, Va., on 25 April 1861, concluding succinctly that "I cannot consent to serve a Black Republican Government any longer." (Not nearly so vocal as Capt Taylor, but no less determined, were Major Henry B. Tyler, Sr., Adjutant and Inspector of the Marine Corps, and the seven lieutenants who, between February and March, tendered their resignations, to cast their lot with the Confederacy.) By this time, it had become obvious to officials of the United States Government that many were resigning honorably in order to serve with the South against their former comrades in arms. Resignations were no longer accepted, and dismissals from the service became commonplace.

6 May 1861:
The name of Captain and Brevet Major Hunter Terrett was stricken from the rolls of the Marine Corps.

Although Terrett was of considerable stature in the Marine Corps, primarily due to his exemplary service with the Marine Battalion during the War with Mexico, he declined to take the oath of allegiance to the United States when the USS Cyane arrived at New York. His resignation to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells was refused.

17 May 1861:
First Lieutenant Israel Greene, in a lengthy letter of explanation to the Secretary of the Navy, tendered his resignation from the Marine Corps.

Lt Greene, of Northern birth, had been most prominent in Marine Corps circles by his advocacy of formal artillery training. His own was obtained at West Point and he returned to Washington to instruct Marines at the Navy Yard. He also commanded the Marines from 8th and Eye Streets, S. E., who captured John Brown at Harpers Ferry in October 1859. His wife, however, was a Virginian, and he followed the Confederacy, where he became a Major and Adjutant of the Confederate States Marine Corps.

15 Jul 1861:
Colonel Commandant Harris directed the organization of four companies of Marines of 80 men each, together with their necessary officers, noncommissioned officers, and musics for temporary service in the field under the command of Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, USA.

This battalion, promptly raised from among the raw recruits recently admitted to the Marine Corps at the Washington Navy Yard, was commanded by Major John G. Reynolds, USMC. Other officers, upon hearing of its organization and in anticipation of serving in the field, quickly begged to join. Only 12 were accepted.

21 Jul 1861:
This battalion of 353 Marines, commanded by Maj Reynolds, participated in the First Battle of Bull Run.

Despite Col Harris' doubt of the legitimacy of the battalion being assigned in this manner, it was assigned to Colonel Andrew Porter's Brigade and given the task of support to Captain Charles Griffin's "West Point Battery" of artillery. Inexperience dogged the steps of the newly recruited men, however, but Maj Reynolds managed to rally them three times under Confederate attack before they broke with the remainder of the Union Army. Second Lieutenant Robert E. Hitchcock and eight privates were killed in action. Brevet Major Jacob Zeilin, Second Lieutenant William H. Hale, one corporal, and 16 privates were wounded. Sixteen privates were missing in action.

19-21 Aug 1861:
Assistant Secretary of the Navy G. V. Fox ordered the organization of a force of 200 Marines from Washington to report to Captain John A. Dahlgren, USN, at the Nary Yard.

These Marines were formed in full marching order and assigned to the Potomac Flotilla for the purpose of scouring the Maryland countrysideespecially Port Tobacco-for locations suspected of being Confederate depots for provisions and arms.

28-29 Aug 1861:
The Marine Detachment of the USS Minnesota, under the command of Captain William L. Shuttleworth, USMC, assisted in the capture of Forts Clark and Hatteras, Hatteras Inlet, N. C.

Assisted by the Detachments of the USS Wabash, Captain Issac T. Doughty; USS Cumberland, First Lieutenant Charles Heywood; USS Minnesota, Second Lieutenant William H. Cartter; and USS Susquehanna, Second Lieutenant Philip R. Fendall, Jr., the Marines were transferred to the USS Harriet Lane. Landed at 0640 on the 28th, they had Fort Clark in possession by 1400. After spending the night ashore, they advanced against Fort Hatteras and, assisted by naval gunfire, captured the second fort at 1110. There were no Union casualties.

3 Sep 1861:
A guard of 30 Marines, commanded by an officer was ordered to report to Commander Richard Wainwright, USN, at Fort Ellsworth, Alexandria, Va., as part of the garrison.

14 Sep 1861:
A band of Marines and Sailors from the USS Colorado, commanded by Captain Edward McD. Reynolds, USMC, rowed stealthily into Pensacola Harbor to destroy the Confederate Privateer, Judah.

Private John Smith, the first to board the enemy vessel, was killed, but the Judah was set afire and cut adrift to sink. Three Marines were wounded.

15 Oct 1861:
Orders were received at Headquarters Marine Corps for another battalion of Marines to be formed under Major John G. Reynolds, embark on the U. S. Steamer Pawnee, and proceed to Hampton Roads, Va., there to report to Flag Officer Samuel F. DuPont, USS Wabash.

29 Oct 1861:
Seventeen armed vessels and 33 transports, including the chartered side-wheeler Steamer Governor, with approximately 300 Marines aboard, weighed anchor from Hampton Roads to Port Royal, S. C.

1 Nov 1861:
In a raging hurricane off Cape Hatteras, the Governor's rolling hulk began to leak and, coupled with clumsy handling, soon was in a sinking condition.

USS Sabine came alongside on 2 November to transfer the hapless Marines, but the increasing storm hampered operations. A few at a time, they jumped to safety. Seven of them perished, however.

7 Nov 1861:
Following a prolonged bombardment by Flag Officer DuPont's fleet at Port Royal, the Confederates evacuated Hilton Head, opposite modern-day Parris Island. The Marine Detachment and Sailors of the USS Wabash landed at 1400 to secure Fort Walker against no opposition. The battalion, however, missed this operation.

7 Nov 1861:
A detachment of Marines from the USS Santee raided Galveston Harbor, Texas.

Against bitterly opposing Texas seamen, a Sergeant's Guard attempted to cross the Galveston Bar and burn the Confederate Steamer General Rusk. When thwarted, they turned to the Armed Schooner Royal Yacht and destroyed her by fire, escaping in small boats.

8 Nov 1861:
Captain John Schermerhorn and Marines from the U. S. Steamer San Jacinto participated in the capture of Confederate diplomats, John Slidell and James Mason, from the British Steamer Trent, at sea, east of Havana, Cuba.

22 Nov 1861:
The United Stales Marine Corps was authorized to enlist an additional 500 privates, with a proportionate number of noncommissioned officers.

23 Nov 1861:
Colonel Commandant John Harris announced in Washington that 19 officers had resigned their Marine Corps commissions in their unwillingness to serve against the South.

12 Dec 1861:
In Helena Sound, S. C. (between Port Royal and Charleston), the Marine Detachment of the USS Dale created general havoc for so small a force.

Marines of the Dale transferred to the small U. S. Steamer Issac Smith to navigate the Ashepoo River. At Mosquito Creek, guns of the vessel bombarded a house sheltering Confederate detachments, and the Marines landed to mop them up and destroy the buildings. Later in the month, they fought another engagement with Confederates on the South Edisto River.

Dec 1861:
Marines from the USS Savannah attacked a Confederate fort on Tybee Island, Ga.

13 Jan 1862:
Confederate stores at Cedar Keys, Fla., were destroyed by the Marine Detachment of the U. S. Steamer Hatteras.

10-19 Feb 1862:
Sergeant's Guards of 14 Union vessels participated in the pursuit of a Confederate naval fleet up Croatan Sound from Roanoke Island, and aided in the occupation of Fort Cobb and Elizabeth City, N. C.

23 Feb -8 Mar 1862:
The Marine Battalion of the South Blockading Squadron, under command of Maj Reynolds, departed for operations in Georgia.

The battalion, less First Lieutenant A. Stillman, two sergeants, one music, and 47 privates, boarded the U. S. Transport McClellan and departed Bay, Point, S. C. Their destination was Fernandina, Amelia Island, Ga., which they were to occupy. Upon their arrival on 6 March, however, Union Army troops were in residence, and they returned to Hilton Head the following day.

8 Mar 1862:
Action of the CSS Virginia (formerly Merrimac) versus the USS Cumberland and USS Congress at Hampton Roads, Va. Captain Charles Heywood and Second Lieutenant Joseph F. Baker and their Marine Guards, respectively, took part aboard the two latter vessels.

Lt Baker reported to Captain Shuttleworth of the USS Minnesota that his "Marine Guard was stationed at the mid-ship guns on the spar-deck," and that one private was killed and another three wounded. The latter were sent aboard the Minnesota, and on to the hospital in Brooklyn.

8 Mar 1862:
Twenty-five Marines from the USS Mohican and USS Pocahontas, armed with two 12-pounder guns, landed at Brunswick, Ga., but found a Confederate encampment there deserted.

9 Mar 1862:
Engagement of the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor, USS Minnesota, USS Roanoke, and USS St. Lawrence at Hampton Roads, Va.

Marine officers Capt William L. Shuttleworth and First Lieutenant William H. Cartter in the Minnesota; Captain Matthew R. Kintzing in the Roanoke, and Second Lieutenant Richard S. Collum in the St. Lawrence, and their Marine Guards participated.

Capt Shuttleworth reported to the Commandant that he had charge of the howitzers on the poop-deck, but that the Virginia could not approach them for effective fire on either day. Thus, he had no casualties in the action.

12-21 Mar 1862:
Marine Detachments of U. S. gunboats under the command of sergeants, participated in a combined naval and army expedition up Slocum's Creek, N. C., capturing the towns of Newberne and Washington.

16 Mar 1862:
Captain Charles G. McCawley, First Lieutenants H. B. Lowry and Percival C. Pope, and Second Lieutenant Samuel W. Powell reported to Major John G. Reynolds at Bay Point, S. C., for duty with the Marine Battalion.

17 Mar 1862:
Maj Reynolds received orders from Flag Officer DuPont of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron to embark the battalion, with all its camp equippage, on the USS Bienville.

21 Mar 1862:
Leaving only his disabled at Hilton Head, Maj Reynolds and the battalion sailed to occupy St. Augustine, Fla., halting outside the harbor on 23 March to await instructions.

22 Mar 1862:
Major Issac T. Doughty and the Marine Guard of the Flag Ship USS Wabash occupied St. Augustine, Fla.

The mayor and city council of St. Augustine drafted a letter to Flag Officer DuPont to "express their heartfelt gratification and satisfaction of the polite and urbane course of Major Doughty and Officers of the U. S. Marines . . . and of the good conduct and discipline of the Troops under their command," and expressed their desire that "the Battalion of Marines under Major Reynolds, . . . understood to be now off our Harbor, . . . be stationed within our City."

25 Mar 1862:
Occupation of St. Augustine was not the lot of the Marine Battalion. They were relieved of duty with the Squadron and sent to Washington aboard the Bienville.

Maj Reynolds relates in a letter to Col Harris that three companies of the 7th New Hampshire Regiment took over the duties of occupying St. Augustine. Twenty Marine privates were also detached and sent to the Flag Ship Wabash as replacements. DuPont informed the Navy Department "of the earnest zeal which has ever actuated Major Reynolds in all the duties pertaining to his command, resulting in its fine discipline, and in an eager anxiety on the part of every officer and man for more active service in the field," and "that, as a body of men more Subordinate, devoted, loyal and accommodating to circumstances however trying, could not be found in any service. Major Reynolds has maintained throughout, his reputation as a Soldier and an officer."

25 Mar 1862:
The Marine Detachment of the USS New London participated in a naval action with the Confederate Steamers Oregon and Pamlico at Pass Christian, Miss.

Mar 1862:
Marine Detachments of the USS Mercedita and USS Sagamore participated in a boat expedition against vessels and destroyed stores at Appalachicola, West Florida.

14 Apr 1862:
Marines from the USS Pocahontas and a unit of the 3d New Hampshire Volunteers performed a reconnaissance of Seabrook Island, Edisto River, S. C.

24-28 Apr 1862:
Marine Detachments aboard ships under the command of Captain David G. Farragut, USN, participated as gun crews against Forts St, Philip and Jackson, below New Orleans.

24 Apr 1862:
Marines, under the command of Captain John L. Broome, landed on the levee at New Orleans, attacked the Quarantine Station, and took as prisoners the rebel officers garrisoning it.

To read part II, click here