|Political leader||Continental Congress|
|Dates of operation||November 1775 – April 1783|
|Allegiance|| Thirteen Colonies (1775–76)|
United States (1776–1783)
|Active regions||North America|
|Size||2,131 at peak|
|Allies||Continental Navy, Continental Army|
|Battles and wars||Battle of Princeton, Penobscot Expedition, Battle of Nassau|
The Continental Marines were the amphibious infantry of the American Colonies (and later the United States) during the American Revolutionary War. The Corps was formed by the Continental Congress on November 10, 1775 and was disbanded in 1783. Their mission was multi-purpose, but their most important duty was to serve as onboard security forces, protecting the captain of a ship and his officers. During naval engagements Marine sharpshooters were stationed in the fighting tops of the ships' masts, they would also man the cannons along with the crew of the ship and were supposed to shoot the opponent's officers, naval gunners and helmsmen.
In all, there were 131 Colonial Marine officers and probably no more than 2,000 enlisted Colonial Marines. Though individual Marines were enlisted for the few U.S. Naval vessels, the organization would not be re-created until 1798. Despite the gap between the disbanding of the Continental Marines and the current organization, the Continental Marines' successor, U.S. Marine Corps, marks November 10, 1775 as its inception.
In accordance with the Continental Marine Act of 1775, Congress decreed:
That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates as with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies; unless dismissed by Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of Marines.
These two battalions were initially intended to be drawn from George Washington's army for the planned invasion of Halifax, Nova Scotia, the main British reinforcement and supply point. In reality only one battalion was formed by December, with five companies and a total of about 300 men. Plans to form the second battalion were suspended indefinitely after several British regiments-of-foot and cavalry, supported by 3,000 Hessian mercenaries, landed in Nova Scotia, making the planned amphibious assault impossible. Washington was reluctant to support the Marines, and suggested that they be recruited from New York or Philadelphia instead.
The Continental Marines' only Commandant was Captain Samuel Nicholas, commissioned on 28 November 1775; and the first Marine barracks were located in Philadelphia. Though legend places its first recruiting post at Tun Tavern, historian Edwin Simmons surmises that it was more likely the Conestoga Waggon [sic], a tavern owned by the Nicholas family. Robert Mullen, whose mother owned Tun Tavern, later received a commission as a captain in June 1776 and likely used it as his recruiting rendezvous. Four additional Marine Security Companies were also raised and helped George Washington defend Philadelphia.
Marines were used by the US to carry out amphibious landings and raids during the American Revolution. Marines joined Commodore Esek Hopkins of the Continental Navy's first squadron on its first cruise in the Caribbean. They landed twice in Nassau, in the Bahamas, to capture naval supplies from the British. The first landing, named the Battle of Nassau, led by Captain Samuel Nicholas, consisted of 250 marines and sailors who landed in New Providence and marched to Nassau Town. There, they wrought havoc and seized naval stores of shells, shot, and cannon, but failed to capture any of the desperately needed gunpowder. The second landing, led by a Lieutenant Trevet, landed at night and captured several ships along with the naval stores. Sailing back to Rhode Island, the squadron captured four small prize ships. The squadron finally returned on 8 April 1776, with 7 dead marines and four wounded. Though Hopkins was disgraced for failing to obey orders, Nicholas was promoted to major on 25 June and tasked with raising 4 new companies of Marines for 4 new frigates then under construction.
In December 1776, the Continental Marines were tasked to join Washington's army at Trenton to slow the progress of British troops southward through New Jersey. Unsure what to do with the Marines, Washington added the Marines to a brigade of Philadelphia militia, also dressed in green. Though they were unable to arrive in time to meaningfully affect the Battle of Trenton, they were able to fight at the Battle of Princeton.[need quotation to verify][dead link]
Continental Marines landed and captured Nautilus Island and the Majabagaduce peninsula in the Penobscot Expedition, but withdrew with heavy losses when Commodore Dudley Saltonstall's force failed to capture the nearby fort. A group under Navy Captain James Willing left Pittsburgh, traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, captured a ship, and in conjunction with other Continental Marines, brought by ship from the Gulf of Mexico raided British Loyalists on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain. The last official act of the Continental Marines was to escort a stash of silver crowns, on loan from Louis XVI of France, from Boston to Philadelphia to enable the opening of the Bank of North America.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, both the Continental Navy and Marines were disbanded in April 1783. Although individual marines stayed on for the few U.S. naval vessels left, the last Continental Marine was discharged in September. In all, there were 131 Colonial marine officers and probably no more than 2,000 enlisted Colonial marines. Though individual marines were enlisted for the few U.S. naval vessels, the organization would not be re-created until 1798. Despite the gap between the disbanding of the Continental Marines and the establishment of the actual United States Marine Corps (USMC), the USMC deems November 10, 1775 as its official founding date. This is traditional in marine units and is similar to the practice of the British and Dutch marines.
On September 5, 1776, the Naval Committee published the Continental Marines uniform regulations specifying green coats with white facings (lapels, cuffs, and coat lining), with a leather high collar to protect against cutlass slashes and to keep a man's head erect. Its memory is preserved by the moniker "Leatherneck", and the high collar on Marine dress uniforms. Though legend attributes the green color to the traditional color of riflemen, Colonial Marines carried muskets. More likely, green cloth was simply plentiful in Philadelphia, and it served to distinguish Marines from the red of the British or the blue of the Continental Army and Navy. Also, Sam Nicholas's hunting club wore green uniforms, hence his recommendation to the committee was for green. Another possible reason for the green coats with white facings is that they were using captured uniforms as many loyalist units such as the Queens Own Loyal Provincial Regiment utilizes the green faced white coats.