In the third installation of our 10 Part Series on the Battle Streamers of the Marine Corps, we begin to look at the early periods of American history and the Marine Corps’ involvement in each campaign. You may wonder how a modern unit may be awarded a streamer for a campaign that happened hundreds of years ago, so it is important to note that each unit is awarded a streamer based on historical involvement and not just modern campaigns. Once again it is also important to note that some of the streamers are Navy or Army specific, however, if a Marine Corps unit operated as part of the Navy or Army unit that is awarded the streamer, they too receive the streamer in recognition of their efforts.
Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army)
Holding the same value as the Legion of Merit individual award, the Meritorious Unit Commendation is awarded to units for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services for at least six continuous months during the period of military operations against an armed enemy occurring on or after 1 January 1944.” While the service does not necessarily have to be in a combat zone, the unit’s service must be directly related to the combat effort to receive the award. Furthermore, the unit must “display such outstanding devotion and superior performance of exceptionally difficult tasks as to set it apart and above other units with similar missions.” In 1961, the Army authorized the Meritorious Unit Commendation to be awarded to detachments serving under the Army to receive the award, opening it up to the US Marine Corps and other branches of the service.
Formed at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and authorized by a resolution of the Continental Congress on November 10, 1775, the United States Marine Corps traces its roots to the Continental Marines of the Revolutionary War. These Marines were the first to carry out overseas campaigns. The first campaign was the raid on New Providence in the Bahamas in 1776. The Trenton and Princeton Campaigns under George Washington’s direction came next in December of 1776 and January of 1777 respectively. The Marines also took part in many sea battles throughout the war including John Paul Jones’ descent on Whitehaven, England in 1778. The Marines, being a department of the Navy, operated in marine settings early on, including serving on the Mississippi river during the Revolution.
Quasi-War with France
In 1794, Congress established a Navy to protect American commerce as its expanding shipping lanes came under fire by privateers of Revolutionary France. Once an ally, France became an enemy of the United States during their own Revolution. This led to an undeclared war that was fought entirely at sea, mainly in the Mediterranean and West Indian Waters from 1798-1801. The warship Constellation won two victories over the French during this period, and early Marines assisted in the operations under the command of Captain Thomas Truxtun, who was known for his high standards and crew demands. The battles came to an end when France agreed to a peace treaty, having been thoroughly defeated by the US and British ships who worked together.
In 1801 the United States deployed Navy ships to the Mediterranean to patrol the African coast, form blockades, attack pirate fortresses on the shore and work to prevent the overall success of Barbary piracy. The United States had become fed up with the Barbary States of North Africa (what are now Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya) plundering commerce ships for centuries via piracy. By 1805, the United States gradually pulled out their naval presence and would soon be immersed in the War of 1812. During this period, Barbary Coast piracy began to increase so in 1815 the United States once again sent Navy ships to patrol the waters. After periods of unwavering force, the rulers in Barbary succumbed to US power and came to a diplomatic agreement to stop the piracy. Marines were a constant presence on the Navy ships and were vital in battles such as the destruction of the pirate captured ship Philadelphia and the ship Intrepid’s quest to destroy enemy ships in the Tripoli Harbor.
War of 1812
The Marines played a vital role in all of the Navy’s engagements during the War of 1812. Marines fought in the Battle of Lake Erie and were instrumental in the ship Constitution’s victory over the British ship Guerriere. Aside from assisting the Navy, the Marines also fought extensively on land, engaging in the attack on Fort George, the Defense of Sackett’s Harbor and the capture of Toronto, among other battles.
African Slave Trade
In 1819, Congress declared that the African Slave Trade was piracy and, therefore, punishable by death. With the new piracy classification, it fell upon the US Navy to patrol the waters of West Africa where the slaves were captured. Additionally, US Marines operated in South America and Cuba, the primary disembarkation point of slaves. The primary goal was to locate, capture and prosecute people dealing in human trade. The initiative lasted for over 40 years, and the Marines were instrumental in assisting the Navy in their capture of over 100 slave traders.
Stay tuned as we continue our series next week, moving forward in American history to cover the Operations Against West Indian Pirates, Indian Wars, Mexican War, Civil War, Marine Corps Expeditionary, and Spanish Campaign streamers.
View our previous editions in the series:
Tyler has over ten years of experience in the military and tactical industry. The son of company founder Steve Berg, Tyler grew up assisting with the business and absorbing everything about the industry. Having recently graduated from college with a degree in Business and Communications, Tyler has joined our team full time. Follow Tyler as he shares fresh perspectives on everything from military history to cutting edge tactical gear.