Leathernecks: An Illustrated History of the United States Marine Corps

Article excerpt

Leathernecks: An Illustrated History of the United States Marine Corps by Merrill L. Bartlett and Jack Sweetman. Naval Institute Press (http://www.usni.org), 291 Wood Road, Annapolis, Maryland 21402, 2008, 479 pages, $60.00 (hardcover), ISBN 978-1-59114-020-7.

Leathernecks is a comprehensive and marvelously illustrated account of the history of the United States Marine Corps. Its authors, awardwinning military historians Merrill L. Bartlett and Jack Sweetman, examine the personalities and events that have shaped the Corps over its 235-year history, from the service's inception in 1775 through its most recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bartlett and Sweetman begin their story not in the legendary Tan Tavern in Philadelphia but, interestingly, in the village of Passamaquoddy, Nova Scotia. In November 1775, the citizens of that remote Canadian town sent a petition to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia requesting "to be admitted into the association of North Americans, for the preservation of their rights and liberties" (p. 13). Despite its appeal, the idea of liberating Passamaquoddy was quickly overshadowed by the prospect of capturing the nearby British naval base in Halifax. Thus, Congress recommended that Gen George Washington conduct an amphibious operation on the coast of Nova Scotia, "that two battalions of Marines be raised" from among his forces, and "that they be distinguished by the names of the first & second battalions of American Marines" (p. 14). Washington wisely rejected the scheme. At the time, his nascent army was fully occupied with the investment of Boston, and he could ill afford the loss of two battalions. Nevertheless, Congress decided to raise the Continental Marines separately from the army and began appointing officers in Philadelphia.

This little-known account of the Marines' founding is but one of the many nuggets in this veritable gold mine of interesting information. Through a concise and lively narrative, the authors relate numerous anecdotes from the Corps's past while providing a comprehensive organizational and operational history of the service. They examine the development of the Corps through the Revolution, detailing the Marines' first amphibious landing at Hog Island in the Bahamas as well as their role as ships' troops serving in every major naval engagement of the war. They go on to examine the service's activities during the Quasi-War with France and the First Barbary War. During the latter conflict, Lt Presley O'Bannon and seven other Marines carried the American flag to the shores of Tripoli- an event later memorialized in the Marine Corps Hymn.

The leathernecks- so named because of the broad leather stocks that Marines wore for protection against sword slashes- would go on to serve heroically at sea and on land during the War of 1812, the Seminóle War, and the Mexican War. …