Despite their stellar service in foreign engagements, the Marine Corps playedA little bit of history about the USMC during the civil war- Courtesy of Wikipedia only a minor role during the Civil War (1861–1865); their most important task was blockade duty and other ship-board battles, but were mobilized for a handful of operations as the war progressed.
During the prelude to war, a hastily-created 86-man Marine detachment under Lieutenant Israel Greene was detached to arrest John Brown at Harper's Ferry in 1859, after the abolitionist raided the armory there. Command of the mission was given to then-Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aide, Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, both having been on leave in Washington when President James Buchanan ordered Brown arrested. The ninety Marines arrived to the town on 17 October via train, and quickly surrounded John Brown's Fort. Upon his refusal to surrender, the Marines stormed the building with bayonets, battering down the door with hammers and a ladder used as a battering ram. Greene slashed Brown twice and would have killed him had his sword not bent on his last thrust; in his haste he had carried his light dress sword instead of his regulation sword.
At the opening of the war, the Marine Corps had 1892 officers and men, but two majors, half the captains, and two-thirds of the lieutenants resigned to join the Confederacy, as did many prominent Army officers. Though the retention of enlisted men was better, the Confederate States Marine Corps formed its nucleus with some of the best Marines the Corps had. Following the wave of defections, thirteen officers and 336 Marines, mostly recruits, were hastily formed into a battalion and sent to Manassas. At the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), they performed poorly, running away like the rest of the Union forces. Commandant John Harris reported sadly that this was "the first instance in Marine history where any portion of its members turned their backs to the enemy."
Congress only slightly enlarged the Marines due to the priority of the Army; and after filling detachments for the ships of the Navy (which had more than doubled in size by 1862), the Marine Corps was only able to field about one battalion at any given time as a larger force for service ashore. Marines from ship's detachments as well as ad-hoc battalions took part in the landing operations necessary to capture bases for blockade duty. These were mostly successful, but on 8 September 1863, the Marines tried an amphibious landing to capture Fort Sumter in Charlestown harbor and failed, one of the few failed landings of the Marine Corps. Due to a shortage of officers, the Marines of Commander George Preble's naval brigade that fought at the Battle of Honey Hill in 1864 started the battle with First Lieutenant G.G. Stoddard as the battalion commander (normally accorded a lieutenant colonel), the only officer in the battalion (the company commanders and other staff being sergeants).
photograph of a man sitting upright, wearing a grey dress uniform
Confederate Marine Lt Frances H. Cameron in 1864
On 15 May 1862, the Battle of Drewry's Bluff began as a detachment of ships under Commander John Rodgers (including the USS Monitor and USS Galena) steamed up the James River to test the defenses of Richmond as part of the Peninsula Campaign. As the Galena took heavy losses, the unwavering musket and cannon fire of Corporal John F. Mackie would earn him the Medal of Honor on 10 July 1863, the first Marine to be so awarded.
In January 1865, the Marines took part in the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, tasked with acting as marksmen on the flank of the attack to shoot any Confederate troops that appeared on the ramparts of the fort. Even though they were ordered from their firing positions by Admiral Porter's second in command, Porter blamed the Marines for the failure of the naval landing force to take the fort. Despite this, the fort was successfully captured; five Marines earned the Medal of Honor during the battle. In all, Marines received 17 of the 1522 awards during the Civil War. A total of 148 Marines would die in the war, the most casualties up to that point.
On the opposite side of the lines, the Congress of the Confederate States authorized the creation of the Confederate States Marine Corps on 16 March 1861. Initially authorized at 45 officers and 944 enlisted men, the CSMC was increased to 1,026 enlisted men on 24 September 1862, but actual manpower never approached that number, maxing below 550 total. Its first and only Commandant, Colonel Lloyd J. Beall, stood the corps up in Richmond, and headquartered it at Fort Darling.
The Confederate Marines, much like its progenitor, played small roles through the Civil War. Much of its service in the war was shipbound, such as the CSS Virginia's famous duel with the USS Monitor at Battle of Hampton Roads. Detachments on land guarded several naval bases, including the defense of the CSMC's headquarters at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff. One of the few notable operations included an assault on a Union prisoner of war camp at Point Lookout. Toward the end of the war, Marines were pressed for the defense of Richmond, such as the Battle of Sayler's Creek.