Brief History of the Seagoing Marines


Related Resource: The Corps' Salty Seadogs Have All But Come Ashore: Seagoing Traditions Founder as New Millenium Approaches

Nearly everyone is acquainted with the Marine Corps and its air, land and amphibious operations. Less well-known are its seagoing activities. Although the very word "Marine" pertains to the sea, it is not so closely related today. U.S. Marines have always been seagoing. Their service aboard ships of the fleet spans the days of sharpshooting from a frigate's rigging to the present day service of manning a 5-inch gun on an aircraft carrier.

Marines, equipped with a musket and a cutlass, first served under Commodore Esek Hopkins aboard the USS Cabot in December, 1775.

In 1803, action against the Barbary pirates took the Marines to the northern coast of Africa and the "shores of Tripoli."

During the period from 1815 to 1825, a wave of piracy swept the Caribbean area, resulting in the capture of many American ships and the murder of their crewmen. U.S. forces, including 200 Marines on board the Macedonian and other ships, helped end these outrages by capturing pirate ships and their shore strongholds. Punitive action also was required against Sumatrans, following the 1831 sacking of an American trading ship in the harbor of Quallah Battoo and the murder of part of its crew. An expedition, including Marines from the frigate Potomac, seized several Sumatran forts.

In 1835, the Seminole Indians attacked Army troops who had been sent to Florida to move them to the western reservations. Marines from the Navy's West India Squadron were among the first reinforcements sent to the area. They later participated in operations of the "Mosquito Fleet" composed of canoes, barges and other small vessels which were used until 1842 to patrol the swamps and everglades.

The year 1842 also saw ship detachments of Leathernecks become engaged in the suppression of slave trading which had sprung up along the western coast of Africa.

When sails gave way to steam, the United States needed advance bases for the purpose of supplying fuel for her ships as well as supplies for her crews. The added speed gained in steamship travel also stimulated interest in the increase of foreign commerce. When Admiral Matthew C. Perry visited Japan in 1854, Marines participated in the impressive ceremony and pageantry of the occasion, which helped to promote trade agreements between the two countries.

During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy had a Marine Corps. These Marines, both north and south, were used in the same manner aboard ship and on land.

In 1871, after a number of American seamen had been massacred in Korea, a U.S. naval squadron was sent to that country to negotiate for the protection of American seamen and, if possible, to open up Korea to America trade. When ships of the squadron were fired upon by Koreans, a landing force was sent up the Sallee River to attack the forts. Of the squadron's 105 Marines who formed the shock troops for the expedition, six were awarded Medals of Honor for their heroism.

Illegal destruction of seals in the Bering Sea had reached wholesale proportions by 1892 following the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The poachers, principally British, were threatening the complete extinction of the valuable animals. A settlement was finally reached between Great Britain and the United States by which naval officers of each nation were authorized to arrest and detain poachers. The steamer Al-Ki, with three Marine officers and 40 Marines aboard, was sent to the troubled area, and the ruthless slaughter was soon ended.


Source: "Brief History of the Seagoing Marines," a two-page handout prepared by the Reference Section, History and Museums Division, Headquarters, Marine Corps, 19 May 1982.