A service culture is an organic growth over decades of sustained and exemplary performance and can only prosper when those in that service remember, celebrate and then emulate that culture.
It is easy to talk about the "Navy Marine Corps Team" - but do you know its roots? Do you know its foundation? Do you know the Battle of Blandensburg?
Well, you will now.
In the latest edition of Naval History Magazine, Chip Reid does an outstanding article on it, The Last Stand at Bladensburg. You need to read it all, and it is behind the members only firewall ... but you are all members of USNI, right? If not, shame on you - click here and join then come back.
Let's get right to the center of it;
U.S. Marine Corps Private Charles Dechard stood next Captain Samuel Miller, watching with a mixture of horror and rage as the American army defending Washington, D.C., disintegrated around them. Everywhere, it seemed, frightened soldiers were running as fast as they could from the fields around Bladensburg, Maryland.Yep ... you need to read it all.
The Marines could see the reason for the panic—a line of red-coated soldiers advancing inexorably across the field. Small groups of American defenders clustered around the Marines, taking heart from the grim manner in which the blue-clad leathernecks held their ground. There was nothing else the Marines could do. Miller, Dechard, and the 112 other Marines in Miller’s command knew they were all that stood between the advancing enemy and the nation’s capital.
To the right of the Marines, 400 men from Captain Joshua Barney’s Chesapeake Flotilla also prepared to meet the oncoming enemy. The flotillamen and Marines were well acquainted. They had fought together since June and had far more trust in one another than they did in the army to which they were now attached.
The British infantry approached, hooting and hollering as they marched, poking fun at the militia as they ran from the field. For Lieutenant Gleig of the 85th, the advance was more fox hunt than warfare. “Never did men with arms in their hands, make better use of their legs,” he recalled. “Though we did our best to kill a few of them, I question whether one American lost his life . . . so rapid, or if you please, so judiciously conducted, was their retreat.”
But as the British advanced toward the sailors and Marines, expecting yet another precipitous retreat, they were greeted instead with a hail of lead.
“They fired volley after volley as fast as they could load their pieces, and raise them again to their shoulders,” Gleig wrote. “Five guns, moreover, played upon us without intermission: in a word, I can compare the shower of balls of all sizes and descriptions, which whistled round us, to nothing more aptly, than the pelting of a hail storm, which a strong northeasterly wind drives into your face. The whole ground at our feet was ploughed up with them, and their singing was like that of a tempest through the bare cordage of a vessel at anchor.”
The flotillamen’s and Marines’ artillery was especially well sited. Barney placed his big 18-pounder guns at a slight angle to the road where they could sweep the field in front of his position. Miller set up his three 12-pounders to protect his flank. The Marine and flotilla gunners loaded their cannon with a double shot of grape and canister, two lethal antipersonnel rounds. Grape, or grapeshot, was a canvas bag filled with 1½- or 2-inch lead balls. Canister was a can filled with up to 50 musket balls. Their effect on massed infantry was devastating.
The British advanced to within 50 yards of his line when Barney ordered his guns to fire. The 18-pounders belched fire and smoke, clearing the road. Dead and wounded British soldiers covered the road while the remainder scampered for cover. Colonel Thornton rode up and rallied his men, leading them in a second charge that Barney’s sailors and Miller’s Marines met with another volley of grape, canister, and musket fire. The blast killed Thornton’s horse, an Arabian he had had since his days in the Peninsular War.
The British recoiled and surged forward a third time, and for a third time the Marines leveled their muskets and Barney’s gunners stood by their cannon and let loose another volley. Thornton, sword in hand, fell with a wound in his thigh, his uniform riddled with bullet holes. Lieutenant Colonel William Wood took over the brigade and fell just as quickly with wounds in his side and chest. Major George Bowen next assumed command and attempted to rally the staggered British.
Miller, on a signal from Barney, led 78 Marines and a group of flotillamen in a headlong charge. The Marines attacked with the bayonet while the sailors wielded cutlasses. All the men charged yelling, “Board ’em! Board ’em!”
The charge sent the British into retreat. Flotilllaman Charles Ball observed that “If the militia regiments on our right and left, could have been brought to charge . . . we should have killed or taken the whole of them in a short time.”
The Marines drove the British back to a wooded ravine, then returned to their own position. Several Marines lay dead and several more lay wounded, including Sergeant Thomas Holiday, who was the number two–ranking noncommissioned officer in the Corps. Miller suffered a slight wound but remained with his command.
The charge all but shattered the 85th, but British reinforcements were now streaming in. General Ross led the line companies of the 4th, 21st, and 44th regiments onto the field and rallied the battered light infantry. He rode across in full view of his men and the Americans, exhorting the British. “I thought then and think yet, that General Ross was one of the finest looking men on horseback I have ever seen,” recalled Ball.
The reorganized British force surged forward, where it met the Marines bayonet to bayonet. The three Marine cannon joined the battle, spitting out grape and canister. The combined artillery and musket fire forced the British back once more. Ross, seeing the hopelessness of a frontal attack, ordered his men to strike the flanks. The British easily pushed through the remaining militia, making them “run like sheep from dogs,” said Ball. Captain Sevier turned the Marines’ cannon to the left to counter the British move on that flank, while Barney ordered his sailors to cover the right.