Yes, the United States Marine Corps was born in a bar. It was on Nov. 10, 1775 that the Continental Congress commissioned Samuel Nicholas to raise several Battalions of Marines. Nicholas established a recruiting station at the “Tun Tavern” in Philadelphia.
The Marines have had significant participation in every armed conflict since 1775 and the Corps’ role as a rapid deployment force to fully defend our nation against terrorist threats and effectuate foreign policy has never been more important than today.
I served in the Marine Corps Reserves stateside from 1971 to 1973, so the history of the Marines has been a favorite topic of mine ever since the early 1970s. Some of the following material has appeared in print before, in publications nationally and internationally. But it bears repeating.
In the 1990s there was an active conversation in the halls of Washington, D.C. about the role of the military in general and future of the Marines specifically. Of course, that conversation also raged with intensity in the late 1970s.
Much of my research into the history of the Marines dates back to the classes I took in Marine history on active duty in the summer of 1972 in Quantico, Virginia. I still prize my tattered, torn, and worn 1970 “Concise History of the United States Marine Corps 1775-1969,” by Capt. William D. Parker, USMCR.
Previously, prior to the 1898 Spanish-American War, the transition of the Navy from sail to steam had led to an active discussion as to the future of the Marines. The original function of the Marines was to serve as a seagoing infantry to provide internal security for the ship and defend the ship’s officers from mutiny; defend the ship from boarding during naval engagements and to conduct “raiding parties.”
In the years before the 1898 conflict there was even discussion of disbanding the Marines. However, the demonstrated effectiveness of being able to rapidly deploy troops into a combat zone by an amphibious landing, closely coordinated with superior naval firepower etched a new role for the Marines that has subsequently been successfully repeated in armed conflict to this day.
In November 1898 political, social, economic, and military leaders were engaged in an after-action analysis of the performance of our armed services in the wake of the cessation of hostilities with Spain in the Spanish-American War on August 12, 1898. Total combat casualties for the United States were 379 troops lost; however, over 5,000 American military personnel died from disease.
The “Treaty of Paris,” which formally ended the conflict was signed in Paris on December 10, 1898 and ratified by the Senate on February 6, 1899. When the treaty “came into force” on April 11, 1899, the United States had affected “regime change” by armed intervention for what many historians believe to be the first time.
For the Americans, most of the combatants were sons of northern and Confederate soldiers of the American Civil War. The 1898 war helped with a difficult reconciliation process that had only begun to take place in the early 1890s.
Carroll County has a role in Marine Corps history. It was on June 11, 1898, according to local historian Jay Graybeal, that United States Marine Sgt. Charles Hampton Smith from Smallwood was killed during the capture of Guantánamo Bay in the Spanish-American War.
In a 1996 published account, Graybeal wrote that Smith was born near Smallwood, Carroll County on January 15, 1867. He had left the county and joined the Marine Corps in 1893 after a brief stint with a Baltimore insurance firm.
Dr. Milton D. Norris, who maintained a medical practice in Eldersburg also served as “Acting Assistant Surgeon,” U.S. Volunteers, during the Spanish-American War. Another “Acting Assistant Surgeon,” John Blair Gibbs was killed on June 11, the same night that Smith was killed. Marine Privates William Dumphy and James McColgan, along with Smith were the first U.S. casualties of the war.
The Marines refer to a portion of the military actions to capture Guantánamo Bay as the “Battle for Cuzco Well,” and the battle is commemorated every year to this day at the sprawling American Guantánamo Bay military base in Cuba
On the base at McCalla Hill, there is a monument dedicated to the Marines that died, including Carroll Countian Sgt. Smith. Graybeal has reported that the “monument consists of a captured bronze cannon and a bronze plaque bearing the names of the five Marines and the Navy surgeon killed in action.”
“Sgt. Smith … was buried with full military honors in Deer Park Methodist Cemetery near his parent's home in Smallwood…,” reports Graybeal. “More than 2,000 people attended the funeral.”
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Happy Birthday Marines. For Corps and Country, Semper Fidelis.