Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, January 13, 2012

Drum Them Out of the Corps

Drum Them Out of the Corps

“The first to fight in battle and to keep our honor clean
We are proud to claim the title of United States Marine!”

Since Capt. Samuel Nicholas formed two battalions of Continental Marines on Nov. 10, 1775, the mission of the Marine Corps has evolved with changing military doctrine and American foreign policy. The Marine Corps has served in every American armed conflict and attained prominence in the 20th century when its theories and practices of amphibious warfare proved prescient and ultimately formed the cornerstone of World War II, particularly in the Pacific campaign. By the mid-20th century, the Marine Corps had become the dominant theorist and practitioner of amphibious warfare.  Its ability to rapidly respond on short notice to expeditionary crises gives it a strong role in the implementation and execution of American foreign policy.

Nicholas was born in Philadelphia in 1744 to Andrew and Mary Schute Nicholas. His father was a blacksmith and his uncle was Attwood Schute, the  mayor of Philadelphia.  After graduating of the University of Pennsylvania.

On Nov. 5, 1775, Nicholas was commissioned a "Captain of Marines" by the Second Continental Congress, which was the first commission issued in the Continental Naval Service. His commission was confirmed in writing on Nov. 28, 18 days after the Continental Congress resolved on Nov. 10, 1775, “That two battalions of Marines be raised…to serve by sea when required; that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalion of Marines.”

Captain Nicholas no sooner received official confirmation of his appointment to office than he established recruiting headquarters at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. By January 1776, having recruited a sufficient number of Marines to man the vessels that comprised the Continental Navy in the waters of Philadelphia, Capt. Nicholas assumed command of the Marine Detachment on board the Alfred. With Commodore Esek Hopkins in command, the Alfred set sail from Philadelphia on the morning of Jan. 4, 1776. The following month witnessed the baptismal fire of the Marines.

Lord Dunmore, with the British force under his command, had collected a store of arms and provisions at New Providence in the Bahamas, and  had done a great deal of damage along the Colonial coast, particularly along the shore of Virginia.  The Alfred was ordered to proceed to Abaco in the Bahamas, and from there to operate against the force of Lord Dunmore. Here the Commodore decided to make an attack on New Providence, capture the enemy's stores and cripple his supplies. Capt. Nicholas was placed in command of the landing party, which consisted of about 250 Marines and sailors.  This, the first successful landing engaged in by Continental Marines, led to the capture of Nassau on March 3, 1776, uncontested.

In April 6, 1776, the Marines participated in the first naval battle between an American squadron and the British, when the HMS Glasgow came across the path of the squadron.   Congress placed Nicholas at the head of the Marines with the rank of Major. Accordingly, Commodore Hopkins was advised to send Major Nicholas to Philadelphia, with dispatches for the Continental Congress.  With notification of his promotion, he was ordered to report to the Marine Committee. The Committee detached him from the Alfred and ordered him to remain in the city, “to discipline four companies of Marines and prepare them for service as Marine guards for the frigates on the stocks.”  Having recruited and thoroughly organized four companies, he requested arms and equipment for them.

In December 1776, Nicholas wrote Congress, “The enemy having overrun the Jerseys, and our army being greatly reduced, I was ordered to march with three of the companies to be under the command of His Excellency, the Commander-in-Chief [George Washington].” This was the first example of a battalion of Marines about to serve as an actual fighting unit under the direct command of Army authority. The Marines did not, however, engage in the attack on Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776 which followed Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River. They were attached to Gen. John Cadwalader’s division, which was ordered to cross the Delaware to Burlington, N.J., south of Trenton, in concert with Washington's crossing to the north on the night of Dec. 25, 1776, but was turned back due to ice floes on the river.

After the first Battle of Trenton, the battalion of Marines under the command of Maj. Nicholas participated in battle with a detachment of Cornwallis’ 's main army at Princeton. During the ensuing months Nicholas's battalion served both as infantry and artillery, participating in several skirmishes.

Following the British evacuation of Philadelphia in June 1778, Marine barracks were reestablished and recruiting resumed. From then until the close of the war, Nicholas's duties at Philadelphia were somewhat similar to those of later Commandants.  Moreover, he was actively in charge of recruiting, and at times acted as Muster Master of the Navy.

On Nov. 20, 1779, he wrote Congress requesting that he be put in charge of the Marine detachment aboard the America, then in process of construction, but Congress was firm in its intention that Nicholas remain in Philadelphia.  After the disbandment of the Continental Marines and Navy following the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, Nicholas returned to civilian life.  He died in 1790, in Philadelphia during an epidemic of yellow fever and is buried in the Friends Graveyard at Arch Street Friends Meeting House.

The U.S. Marine Corps’ official history is filled with honor from the shores of Libya, protecting U.S. merchant ships to the battle of Iwo Jima, and through the Korean and Vietnam wars and the War on Terror.  Until the other day, when a small cadre of Marines stationed in Afghanistan unzipped 236 years of honor and pride, defiling the corpses of the dead enemy.  Now our government must go through the humiliating process of smoothing over ruffled diplomatic feathers.

No matter how righteous our hatred may be of Islamic terrorists, no matter how atrocious their behavior, nothing could excuse the disgraceful conduct of this small group of adolescent Marines.  This is not the American way, and certainly not the way of the U.S. Marine Corps.  Not the Marine Corps I’ve heard of and read about.  When we think of the Marines, we should be thinking of the Marines in the Battle of Tripoli, the Marines who stormed the beaches of Normandy, who gave their lives in Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima.  We should be thinking of Capt. Nicholas, eager to go back into battle aboard the America, but no matter how frustrated, doing his duty, charged with recruiting and training future generates of Marines.  What would he think of this group of Marines?  Would he wonder how they ever got past basic training?  Don’t they teach the Marine Corps song anymore?

It takes more than strong muscles and a fundamental courage to make it as a Marine; it takes strong intelligence, a strong heart, and a strong sense of honor, duty, and pride to earn the privilege of wearing the uniform of a U.S. Marine.  Once the Marines learn the identifies of these misfits, they should be court-martialed, stripped of their uniforms (which they were so eager to undo), and drummed out of the Marine Corps.

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