The United States Marine Corps (USMC) is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing force projection from the sea, using the mobility of the U.S. Navy to rapidly deliver combined-arms task forces. It is one of seven uniformed services of the U.S. In the civilian leadership structure of the United States military, the Marine Corps is a component of the Department of the Navy, but in the Military Leadership structure it is a separate branch, while often working closely with US Naval forces for training, transportation, and logistic purposes.
Originally organized as the Continental Marines on November 10, 1775, by Samuel Nicholas in Philadelphia, as naval infantry, the Marine Corps has evolved in its mission 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 practice of amphibious warfare proved prescient and ultimately formed the cornerstone of the Pacific campaign ofWorld War II. By the mid 20th century, the Marine Corps had become the dominant theorist and practitioner of amphibious warfare. Its ability to respond rapidly to regional crises gives it a strong role in the implementation and execution of American foreign policy.
The United States Marine Corps, with just under 199,000 active duty as of December 31, 2008 and 40,000 reserve Marines, is the smallest of the United States' armed forces in the Department of Defense (the United States Coast Guard is smaller, about one fifth the size of the Marine Corps, but serves under Homeland Security). The Corps is nonetheless larger than the entire armed forces of many significant military powers; for example, it is larger than the active duty Israel Defense Forces or the whole of the British Army.
The United States Marine Corps serves as an amphibious force-in-readiness. Originally introduced under the National Security Act of 1947, it has three primary areas of responsibility:
- "The seizure or defense of advanced naval bases and other land operations to support naval campaigns;
- the development of tactics, technique, and equipment used by amphibious landing forces; and
- such other duties as the President may direct."
This last clause, while seemingly redundant given the President's position as Commander-in-Chief, is a codification of the expeditionary duties of the Marine Corps. It derives from similar language in the Congressional Acts "For the Better Organization of the Marine Corps" of 1834, and "Establishing and Organizing a Marine Corps" of 1798. In 1951, the House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee called the clause "one of the most important statutory—and traditional—functions of the Marine Corps." It noted that the Corps has more often than not performed actions of a non-naval nature, including its famous actions in the War of 1812, at Tripoli, Chapultepec, numerous counter-insurgency and occupational duties (such as those in Central America), World War I, and the Korean War. While these actions are not accurately described as support of naval campaigns nor as amphibious warfare, their common thread is that they are of an expeditionary nature, using the mobility of the Navy to provide timely intervention in foreign affairs on behalf of American interests.
In addition to its primary duties, the Marine Corps has missions in direct support of the White House and the State Department. The Marine Band, dubbed the "President's Own" by Thomas Jefferson, provides music for state functions at the White House. Marines guard presidential retreats, including Camp David, and the Marines of the Executive Flight Detachment of HMX-1 provide helicopter transport to the President and Vice President, using the call signs "Marine One" and "Marine Two" respectively. By authority of the 1946 Foreign Service act, the Marine security guards of the Marine Embassy Security Command provide security for American embassies, legations, and consulates at over 110 posts worldwide.
At its founding, the Marine Corps served as infantry aboard naval vessels and was responsible for the security of the ship and her crew by conducting offensive and defensive combat during boarding actions, and defending the ship's officers from mutiny; to the latter end, their quarters on ship were often strategically positioned between the officers' quarters and the rest of the vessel. Continental Marines also manned raiding parties, both at sea and ashore. America's first amphibious assault landing occurred early in the Revolutionary War as the Marines gained control of a British ammunition depot and naval port in New Providence, Bahamas. The role of the Marine Corps has since expanded significantly; as the importance of its original naval mission declined with changing naval warfare doctrine and the professionalization of the Naval service, the Corps adapted by focusing on what were formerly secondary missions ashore. The Advanced Base doctrine of the early 20th century codified their combat duties ashore, outlining the use of Marines in the seizure of bases and other duties on land to support naval campaigns. The Marines would also develop tactics and techniques of amphibious assault on defended coastlines in time for use in World War II. Its original mission of providing shipboard security finally ended in the 1990s, when the last Marine security detachments were withdrawn from Navy ships.
The United States Marine Corps traces its institutional roots to the Continental Marines of the American Revolutionary War, formed at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, by a resolution of the Second Continental Congress on November 10, 1775, to raise 2 battalions of Marines. That date is regarded and celebrated as the date of the Marine Corps' "birthday". At the end of the American Revolution, both the Continental Navy and Continental Marines were disbanded in April of 1783. Although individual Marines stayed on for the few American naval vessels left, the last Continental Marine was discharged in September 1783. The institution itself would not be resurrected until 1798. In that year, in preparation for the Naval War with France, Congress created the United States Navy and Marine Corps.
The Marines' most famous action of this period occurred during the First Barbary War (1801–1805) against the Barbary pirates, when William Eaton and First Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon led seven Marines and 300 mercenaries in an effort to capture Tripoli. Though they only reached Derna, the action at Tripoli has been immortalized in the Marines' hymn and the Mameluke Sword carried by Marine officers.
During the War of 1812, Marine naval detachments took part in the great frigate duels that characterized the war, which were the first American victories in the conflict. Their most significant contributions were delaying the British march to Washington, D.C. at the Battle of Bladensburg and holding the center of Gen. Andrew Jackson's defensive line at the defense of New Orleans. By the end of the war, the Marines had acquired a well-deserved reputation as expert marksmen, especially in ship-to-ship actions.
After the war, the Marine Corps fell into a depression that ended with the appointment of Archibald Henderson as its fifth commandant in 1820. Under his tenure, the Corps took on expeditionary duties in the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, Key West, West Africa, the Falkland Islands, and Sumatra. Commandant Henderson is credited with thwarting President Jackson's attempts to combine and integrate the Marine Corps with the Army. Instead, Congress passed the Act for the Better Organization of the Marine Corps in 1834, stipulating that the Corps was part of the Department of the Navy as a sister service to the U.S. Navy. This would be the first of many times that the existence of the Corps was challenged. James Walker, Storming of Chapultepec (1847).
Commandant Henderson volunteered the Marines for service in the Seminole Wars of 1835, personally leading nearly half of the entire Corps (two battalions) to war. A decade later, in the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), the Marines made their famed assault on Chapultepec Palace in Mexico City, which would be later celebrated by the phrase "From The Halls of Montezuma" in Marines' hymn. In the 1850s, the Marines would see further service in Panama and Asia, escorting Matthew Perry's East India Squadron on its historic trip to the Far East.
With their vast service in foreign engagements, the Marine Corps played a moderate role in the Civil War (1861–1865); their most prominent task was blockade duty. As more and more states seceded from the Union, about half of the Corps' officers also left the Union to join the Confederacy and form the Confederate States Marine Corps, which ultimately played little part in the war. The battalion of recruits formed for the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) performed poorly, retreating with the rest of the Union forces.