When the Marines Invaded Gettysburg (5/16)

BY JAMES RADA JR. / May 2016

The last military line-of-duty deaths on the Gettysburg battlefield did not happen in 1863 or even in 1918 with Camp Colt. They happened in 1922 when the Marines invaded Gettysburg. That year, tanks rolled across the battlefield, machine guns fired upon the enemy, and bi-planes soared in dangerous dog fights as the U.S. Marines re-fought the Civil War.

Although the Marines were only performing military exercises, two of them would die on the battlefield when their bi-plane crashed.

Local author James Rada will discuss the “1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg” at the Cumberland Township Historical Society on June 6. The presentation will include lots of photos from the event, as well as stories from the march.

On June 19, 1922, more than 5,000 Marines left Quantico, heading north to the battlefield of Gettysburg. Their week-long march allowed them to interact with the public along the way and seek out any living Civil War veterans to invite to the maneuvers.

The Marines reached the Gettysburg battlefield on June 26, but their arrival would be marred by the sudden deaths of two of their numbers, when a de Havilland crashed, resulting in the plane’s pilot and observer being the last U.S. soldiers killed in the line of duty on the Gettysburg battlefield.

But even as a pall, following in the wake of the deaths, descended upon the encampment established on the Codori Farm, the Marine mission proceeded as planned. For 10 days, battle raged once again on the fields and ridges where thousands had perished 59 years prior climaxing on July 4 when the Marines fought the Battle of Gettysburg with “modern” weapons and tactics.

President Warren G. Harding and his wife, along with a number of military personnel, politicians, and representatives of foreign governments, stayed in camp on July 1 and 2 with the Marines and witnessed some of the maneuvers.

“It’s surprising how few people know about this event nowadays,” Rada said. “It involved a large body of Marines marching through Washington and Maryland and got a lot of national coverage at the time.”

The march and maneuvers were also part of an effort by the U.S. Marine Corps to keep from being disbanded and rolled into the U.S. Army after World War I.

James Rada is the author of five historical fiction novels and seven non-fiction history books including “Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy;” “No North, No South : The Grand Reunion at the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg;” and “Battlefield Angels: The Daughters of Charity Work as Civil War Nurses.”