Filed under: Marines | Tags: American Revolutionary War, Boston, Jesse Adair, John Pitcairn, Lexington, Royal Marines
We’ve mentioned a number of the British commanders and linked to some biographical information, but it may be useful to learn a bit more in-depth about the two Marine officers who played such significant roles in the Battle of Lexington.
Major John Pitcairn
Major Pitcairn was 52 years old at the time, so, no spring chicken. When Pitcairn had joined the Marines in 1746, they were still a part of the Army, though they did serve on Navy ships. He fought in the French and Indian Wars as a Captain, so he may have served between 8 and 17 years as a Lieutenant. Then he served at least 8 years as a Captain before his promotion to Major had come in 1771.
Unlike the British Army at the time, in which officers purchased their commissions, advancement in the Marines was purely by seniority. Since the Admiralty had determined that field grade commissions in the Marines had been largely honorary, no Marine officer was promoted to Colonel until 1771. This neatly coincides with Pitcairn’s promotion to Major, so his stalled advancement was greatly helped by that change.
When he arrived in Boston in 1774 to command the Marines, the situation was not exactly what we would imagine when we think of “Royal Marines”:
In Boston, he found that the marines he was to command were lacking adequate supplies, clothing and were an ill-disciplined lot. Drunkenness, fueled by the potent and cheap rum available in Boston, was so bad that Pitcairn took to living in the barracks with his men to keep them from drinking rum and wrote directly to the First Lord of the Admiralty describing the problem. He even blamed the rum for deaths in his regiment. Pitcairn enforced harsh discipline and marched his regiment hard and often on Boston Common. This toughening-up up proved invaluable to his marines on the long and bloody retreat from Concord.
On the other hand, I might hear some arguments from those who have commanded Marines in garrison that, under poor leadership, that is exactly what a garrison can devolve to regardless of lineage.From the initial designation of Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot in 1664 until the disbanding of what had grown to 10 regiments of Marines in 1748, the size and organization of Marine units within the Army seems to have varied widely. While we always think of the elite Royal Marines today, they hadn’t been awarded that designation by King George III until 1802.
In 1755, the Marine Corps expanded to 50 permanent companies, each of which belonged to one of the Grand Divisions – Chatham, Portsmouth or Plymouth. Interestingly, the Marines companies in Boston were from all three Grand Divisions. My impression is that their nominal roots in a particular Grand Division had little affect on whether they were familiar with each other, as they would not often be formed into battalions anyway. Since that hadn’t occurred in the Americas since 1759 at Quebec, it is likely that few of the officers, NCOs and certainly none of the privates had ever “seen the elephant”.
Pitcairn would not survive the war, dying in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Lieutenant Jesse Adair
Adair is characterized in some of the passages that I’ve read as a young, impetuously aggressive officer. One would imagine that in a Marine Lieutenant from an Irish family with a strong military heritage. However, Adair was not a young officer. He was somewhere between 35 and 44 years of age at the time, though he certainly was aggressive. He may also have served in the French and Indian Wars with Pitcairn. At the Battle of Bunker Hill, Adair would be noted , not only for his courage in surmounting the colonist’s defenses, but also as the “Eldest Lieutenant”. (That makes his promotion with the seniority system not indicative of any particular merit.)
Lieutenant Adair of the Marines, an acting engineer, was ordered to strew crow-feet in front of the lines to impeded the march of the enemy, as it was supposed they should attack our rear. Being an Irishman, he began scattering the crowfeet about from the gate towards the enemy, and, of course, had to walk over them on his return, which detained him so long that he was nearly taken prisoner.
Though it may simply have been an ethnic joke at the Irishman’s expense.
Adair did survive the war, rising to command of the 45th Company of Marines, “but was not the sort of officer who flourished in peace. In 1785, Captain Adair was ‘reduced’, and disappeared from the Marine List.” (Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer, p282.)
Filed under: Books, Leadership, Marines, Officers | Tags: Douglas Southall Freeman, Duffel Blog, Iwo Jima, James Mattis
There’s no mistaking the respect of the Marines for many of their Generals and high in the pantheon must be General James N. Mattis. Back in 2004, “a colleague wrote to him asking about the ‘importance of reading and military history for officers,’ many of whom found themselves ‘too busy to read.’” Mattis responded in an email that has since gone viral. Mattis continues the grand tradition of well-read Marine officers who also excel in combat, following the example of none other than Chesty Puller, who carried a copy of Douglas Southall Freeman’s “Lee’s Lieutenants” with him in the Pacific. In his email, he dispenses with those who think there is nothing to learn for the modern warrior from books:
For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.
Filed under: Leadership, Marines, Resistance, Understanding Battles | Tags: American Revolutionary War, Benjamin Bernard, Concord, Francis Smith, Jesse Adair, John Hancock, John Parker, John Pitcairn, Johnathan Harrington, Lexington, Paul Revere, Prince Estabrook, Samuel Adams, Thomas Gage, WIlliam Dawes
On the night of 18 April 1775, the British occupying Boston set out to seize a weapon’s cache at Concord, Massachusetts. On my visit to Boston over the weekend, I was reminded of some of the ingredients of this disaster.
General Thomas Gage had been appointed military governor of Massachusetts in 1774, but his 3000 troops affected little outside of their garrison in Boston. As such, when he was ordered to seize the rebellious colonists weapons and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, his troops had to set out from Boston to do so.
In order to retain the element of surprise, no one was told in advance of the expedition. It has been speculated that General Gage’s wife, who reportedly sympathized with the colonists, let word slip that the operation was going to take place. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the mustering of 700 soldiers at 9pm and preparations for marching would certainly have alerted the citizenry. So, the element of surprise was lost immediately and Paul Revere and William Dawes departed by separate routes to warn Adams and Hancock.
The British had sent out mounted patrols in advance to intercept just such couriers. Unfortunately, since such a patrol was so unusual, it served to alarm the locals and prompt rebel leaders to start rallying the militia anyway.
When choosing the composition of the force to march rapidly to seize the weapons and the leaders, Gage chose to draw each regiment’s light infantry company for speed and their grenadier company to serve as the shock troops. On the surface, this sounds like it might be a good strategy. The light infantry companies were made of soldiers used to moving fast, often serving as skirmishers and tended to be among the better trained and motivated troops in a regiment. The grenadier companies were also an elite company within a regiment, being composed of the larger soldiers, who by designation would have carried grenades and been chosen for their physical prowess. Each of the companies deployed with a lieutenant normally assigned to that company, however, the captains assigned were not necessarily familiar with the troops. Similarly, Marine Major John Pitcairn, who would lead the vanguard of the expedition, had never commanded the light infantry companies as a unit. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Bernard would have had the same circumstances with the grenadiers he commanded. Thus, the company-grade leadership was not familiar with the men, nor did they know their officers.
Gage also chose his most senior regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, to lead the expedition. Smith was regarded as cautious and methodical – a cool and courageous leader, but one with little imagination. Smith had not, of course, ever commanded the light infantry and grenadier companies as a separate unit, nor had the particular collection of company officers serving under him. It is entirely possible that in a garrison that included 13 regiments, he might not have even known all of his officers on the march. Perhaps not the best choice for a rapid expedition into a restive countryside.
I’ve been able to read the orders and reports of the British officers, which is critical to understanding what happened. The first thing that strikes me is the woeful inaccuracy in reporting the number of troops opposing the British forces, starting with a grand underestimation of their possible numbers and continuing with exaggeration of the number first encountered. For example, Major Pitcairn received reports from the vanguard of the light infantry companies advancing on Lexington that 500 militiamen were drawn up on the Green to oppose them. When Pitcairn arrived at the front of the column, he remembers some 200 militiamen filing off the Green when fighting erupted. There were approximately 80 men in the Lexington militia.
To return to the mustering of the troops in Boston, we head to Boston Common, where the troops headed when ordered at 9pm. By 10pm, the troops were assembled, but LTC Smith was late in arriving. While long-service professionals are well aware that any army is a “hurry-up-and-wait” operation, this could not have sat well with the men, who had likely been in formation early in the day, conducted their normal duties all day long and expected a normal night of garrison duties with a comfortable night’s sleep when surprised with these orders.
Unlike the extensive plans for loading and unloading that we know of for the amphibious operations in World War II, there was apparently no such plan for this operation. Similarly, they failed to obtain appropriate boats for the transport of the troops and they traveled on barges which were so tightly loaded that the men had to stand for the crossing. Not only that, but when arriving on the opposite shore, they had to debark in waist-deep water. Massachusetts in mid-April does not feature warm evenings or delightfully sunny days. So, troops who’d but awake since first light were cold, wet annoyed and still awake on the banks of the River Charles nearly 20 hours later at 2am.
An hour into the march, Smith dispatched Pitcairn with six of the light infantry companies to move more rapidly than the main column. An hour later, he sent back for reinforcements, realizing that his slow progress had cost him the element of surprise.
As they approached Lexington, Pitcairn was traveling at the rear of his advance party when he received the exaggerated report of 500 militiamen. He moved rapidly to the front to take charge of the situation.
When the British arrived on Lexington Green, Marine Lieutenant Jesse Adair was posted at the front of the column, likely due to Pitcairn’s familiarity with the Marine officer and trust in his judgement. Captain John Parker had his militia in formation off to the right side of the Green, so that they were not blocking the march of the regulars, but could make a show of force. Adair, seeing the militia drawn up off to his right, worried about the flanking position if the column were to continue forward on its march to Concord. The 80 militia men were in perfect position to rake the British column if they attempted simply to march past them to Concord. As such, Adair lead his troops forward, attempting to scare off the militia, his men reportedly shouted “Huzzah” to terrify the armed farmers, merchants and tradesmen.
Pitcairn arrived at the confusing situation, taking half of the companies off to the left along the road to Concord. Amongst great confusion and much shouting, a British officer demanded that the colonials disarm and disperse. The lack of familiarity and trust between officers and men played a role in the continuing confusion. These light infantry had just marched about fifteen miles from Boston, cold, wet and tired on the trail, annoyed at their officers and frustrated that the rabble in front of them did not simply disperse. On each side, officers had implored their men not to fire, but a gun fired and in the ensuing confusion, the angered light infantrymen opened fire on the slowly dispersing but not disarmed militia.
The horror that is battle took place in front of many civilians, including women and children who had gathered to watch the militia mustering. After all, the stand off, even if not involving violence, was sure to provide more excitement than anyone in Lexington had seen in most of their lives. A simple stalemate in which both sides had simply gone their own ways would assuredly have led to tales told in tavern and around town for decades. These civilians likely helped swell Pitcairn’s professional estimate of the number of militia, who may well have already begun to disperse by the time his attention was focused.
The resulting carnage was far worse than a tense stalemate and certainly has been told of for a few centuries now.
The officers struggled to get the men under control, calling for them to cease fire, but the damage had been done. A bayonet charge by the troops led to the death of Captain Parker’s cousin Jonas and six others were killed. Prince Estabrook, an African-American slave serving in the militia, was among those wounded, as was Johnathan Harrington, whose wound was fatal, raising the death toll to eight.
Colonel Smith rode forward to the sound of the guns, ordered a drummer to beat “Assembly” and restored order when the rest of the column arrived.
In Part II, we will meet a few officers, then examine the Battle at Concord in Part III, finishing with the retreat back to Boston in Part IV.
You know I’m a sucker for a dog, plus have a special affinity for Marines. Should it be any surprise that the latest Marine mascot, Chesty XIV gets another post here? I hope not.
- Chesty XIV comes from Stephens City, Virginia. Josette Keeler of the Northern Virginia Daily wrote a marvelous article about him that has details about him, including that his ‘brindle mark’ on his right shoulder looks, as I thought, like he’s wearing camouflage already.
- There’s a great gallery of photos of Chesty at PawNation.
- PFC Chesty was awarded his Eagle, Globe and Anchor on Monday, having completed his recruit training and basic indoctrination. The Washington Times reports that ‘In the upcoming months, he’ll complete obedience training to underscore his military prowess and serve in a mascot-apprentice roll, trotting alongside his “predecessor and mentor” until the elder Chesty retires in late August.’
- It turns out that his predecessor, SGT Chesty XIII, got his promotion to Sergeant after a confrontation with the SecDef’s golden retriever, Bravo.
I will have to make sure to get down to the Marine barracks this summer to see if I can get a photo of Chesty.
At Saturday’s luncheon, General James Mattis spoke to the veterans of Iwo Jima, their families, and a number of active duty Marines and their families. I was lucky enough to attend the event and have since joined the Iwo Jima Alumni Association as an associate member.
The General, needless to say, gave an excellent speech. He talked about the pride that Marines have in the example set by the veterans of Iwo. In particular, he mentioned that when he was outside Fallujah before the assault companies stormed the town, he listened to a nervous young Marine who told his Corporal he was worried and the Corporal responded, “We took Iwo Jima. Fallujah won’t be nothin’.”
Marines maintain a sense of humor, even when the going gets tough. General Mattis didn’t shy away from a little self-deprecating humor. He related a story about Ramadi, saying he asked a Corporal one of the most inane questions ever asked in a firefight. The Corporal was exchanging fire with the enemy and the General asked, “What’s going on, Corporal?” The young man turned over his shoulder and lowered his rifle. “Sir, we’re takin’ the fun outta fundamentalism.”
When I got to the front of the line for photos with the General, I was completely disarmed when he called me by name. As a Navy Chief once told a just-graduated Navy ensign at the Academy, “Refer to your sailors by name, they’ll love it and they’ll forget it’s written on their chests.” Nonetheless, it was quite an honor for me.
The banquet on Saturday evening was also wonderful, with Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos as the guest of honor. The additional treat of having Radio King Orchestra play after dinner. Melissa and I love swing dancing and RKO had played at our wedding, so it was a reunion of sorts for us as well.
I’ve had the privilege of joining the veterans of Iwo Jima at the reunion at the Sheraton Pentagon City where we hold our Dragoon and Colmar events. It’s been a wonderful event and I expect to attend more than just the seminar next year.
As Cody Green lay dying, Sergeant Mark Dolfini stood guard outside his room. In crisp dress blues, wearing his NCO sword, Dolfini gave silent testimony to the courage that Green had demonstrated his entire life. Green’s example inspired the Marines he so admired.
Cody Green never stood on the yellow footprints of Parris Island, never qualified at the rifle range, nor wore a set of dress blues, but the 12-year-old who’d wanted to be a Marine all his life was made an honorary Marine for his bravery in his fight with leukemia. “They decided Cody, with the strength and honor and courage he showed through the whole thing, he should be a Marine,” Cody’s father David Snowberger told WLFI.
His obituary is posted on legacy.com:
Cody E. Green, 12, of rural Flora, died Saturday, April 28, 2012, at 12:45 p.m. at Riley Hospital for Children, Indianapolis. He was diagnosed with A.L.L., a form of leukemia, in late 2001. He was treated and was in remission until a relapse in 2007, treated again and was in remission until relapsing again October 15, 2011. He had been a patient at Riley since March 2, 2012. He never asked “Why Me,” and fought the illness with grace and humility, never complaining about his treatment or care, saying “Thank you,” to the many health care professionals that cared for him. For this, he was rewarded with Honorary Marine from the United States Marine Corps.
Semper Fi, Devil Dog. We’ll see you on the other side.
Filed under: Films, Marines, Veterans | Tags: 10th Marines, Danilo Prieto, Firewatch, GI Film Festival, Navy Memorial
Firewatch is a short film by Marine Danilo Prieto, who deployed to Afghanistan with Sierra Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines. Sergeant Prieto wants to come to Washington, DC to see the film screened at GI Film Festival 2012 (Firewatch will be shown with 7 other short films Sunday morning, 20 May 2012, starting at 10am in the Naval Heritage Center, at the Navy Memorial). Unfortunately, he lives in California, so, in order to make it to the Festival, he has posted a Kickstarter project to raise funds for the trip. If you donate, he’ll send you the link or a DVD of the film as thanks for your support. If you’ve ever stood a fire watch when you’d rather have been spending time drinking with your buddies, send Prieto the $20 or $30 you’d have spent on drinking in a bar, then get your buddies together (have them buy the drinks) and sit down at your place with the DVD when it arrives. Honor your fallen brothers, like Prieto’s friends CPL Binh Le and CPL Matthew Wyatt. You won’t regret it.
If you live in the DC Metro area, I expect we’ll see you at the Festival, right? It’s 14-20 May 2012 and ticket prices are quite affordable.
Filed under: Gettysburg, Marines, Navy, Understanding Battles | Tags: Naval Academy
Every Saturday morning at Annapolis, Plebes and select upperclassmen participate in six hours worth of midshipman-led professional training. These evolutions vary by company and season, including such activities as running through the obstacle course, discussions with combat veterans, and, most recently, a trip to Gettysburg National Battlefield.
Midshipman 2/c Hobart Kistler, a native of Central, PA, has led tours of that most Hallowed Ground for the past eight years, and, needless to say, knows the place inside-out.