Prologue Magazine

U.S. Marines in the Boxer Rebellion

Winter 1999, Vol. 31, No. 4 | Genealogy Notes

By Trevor K. Plante


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A Chinese "Boxer," 1900. (NARA 111-SC-83087)

In 1900 a crisis erupted in China as the "Boxers" increased their resistance to foreign influence and presence. By the end of the nineteenth century, several countries had already established spheres of influence in China. In the fall of 1899, Secretary of State John Hay wrote that the United States, a late arrival, wanted to maintain an "open door policy" in China. If the Boxers succeeded in pushing the United States and other foreign countries out, this newly opened door could soon be shut.

Discontent with foreigners had been on the rise in China since 1898, when the "I Ho Ch'uan" (Society of "Righteous and Harmonious Fists") began gaining popularity in a province in northwest China. This group commonly referred to as "Boxers" opposed foreign influence and was strongly anti-Christian. The group's numbers swelled with farmers and other workers who were affected by droughts that had come on the heels of devastating floods. Boxers began harassing Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries. As Boxer activity spread to several provinces, provincial leaders and the Chinese imperial court were inconsistent in their stances. Authorities sometimes fought to protect foreigners and Christians and at other times chose to do nothing at all. Tzu Hsi, the empress dowager of the Manchu Dynasty, was publicly "anti-Boxer."1

The United States and seven other countries—Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and Russia-all had interests in China. These eight foreign powers also maintained legations in the Legation Quarter of Peking.2

The population of Peking started to grow as hundreds of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians began flocking to the city for protection. On May 28 and 29, Boxers burned several railroad stations between Peking and Paotingfu, including the large railroad junction at Fengtai. The legations in Peking, fearing they were being isolated, quickly telegraphed for help. The immediate response was the deployment of sailors and marines from foreign ships off China.3

On May 31, Capt. John T. Myers, USMC, arrived in Peking in overall command of two ship detachments of U.S. Marines. This newly formed Legation Guard consisted of Myers and twenty-five marines from the USS Oregon along with Capt. Newt Hall, USMC, twenty-three marines, five sailors, and U.S. Navy Assistant Surgeon T. M. Lippett from the USS Newark.4 Arriving in Peking the same day were approximately 350 foreign sailors and marines sent to protect their respective legations.5

On June 18, foreign ministers in Peking received word from the Chinese government that a state of war would soon be in effect. The declaration came in response to the capture of the Chinese forts at Taku by the foreign powers the day before. The foreign ministers were given twenty-four hours to leave Peking with the promise of safe passage as far south as Tientsin. The ministers met the next day and declined the offer to leave. The empress dowager issued a declaration of war that included praise for "the brave followers of the Boxers." On June 20, Boxers and Chinese soldiers began a siege of the city.6

Chinese artillery and small arms fire became constant. There were no organized attacks against the legations. On the twenty- fifth, marines took a critical position on the Tartar Wall. Since the beginning of the siege, Chinese forces had constructed barricades some distance from the front of the marines. On the night of June 28, Pvt. Richard Quinn reconnoitered one of these barricades by crawling on his hands and knees to the Chinese position.7 On July 2, Chinese forces managed to advance their barricades dangerously close to the marines' position on the wall; the closest barricade became an immediate threat. Starting around two o'clock the next morning, Captain Myers led U.S. Marines and British and Russian troops in a charge on the Chinese barricade. The attack, carried out during a rainstorm, was successful; the Chinese fell back to another barricade hundreds of yards to the rear. Two marine privates were killed, and Myers was wounded in the leg.8 The marines resumed their position on the wall, and the daily artillery blasts and sniper fire from Chinese small arms continued as before.

Captain Hall took command of the Legation Guard after Captain Myers was wounded. Sniper and artillery fire died down to a minimum after an informal truce was made on the sixteenth. This activity continued until the foreign legations were relieved on August 14.

U.S. Marines participated in several actions in China after Myers's force reached Peking. Before the siege began, an allied force moved north from Tientsin toward Peking days after a railroad line was torn up, isolating the capital city. Vice Admiral Sir Edward Seymour of the British Royal Navy led this force with U.S. Navy Capt. Bowman McCalla second in command. Seymour's expedition included 112 American sailors and marines. The allied force traveled north, rebuilding the railroad line as they went. Seymour's expedition came within twenty-five miles of Peking but was forced by Boxers and Chinese soldiers to retreat back toward Tientsin. After five days of retreating south, Seymour's force fought its way into a Chinese arsenal six miles north of Tientsin, where they fortified their position and waited for help.

The United States quickly scrambled to send additional troops to help lift the siege of Peking. Two separate detachments of marines left Cavite in the Philippine Islands and joined up near Taku, China. The first detachment consisted of 107 marines from the First Regiment, who left Cavite on USS Solace. The second detachment of thirty-two marines sailed from Cavite aboard the USS Nashville.9 Around June 18, the two marine detachments combined into a battalion under the command of Maj. Littleton W.T. Waller. On the twentieth, this marine battalion and approximately four hundred Russians engaged the Chinese near Tientsin. The marines were the spearhead of the American-Russian attack but had little success against the more substantial Chinese forces. After an overwhelming counterattack, the Americans and Russians retreated. The marines formed the rear guard of the retreat, in which they were pursued for four hours. Ending up where they started, the marines had marched a total of thirty miles after going to Tientsin and back. They suffered three killed and seven wounded.10 Two days later, Waller's battalion and the Russian force were strengthened to two thousand men with the arrival of British, Russian, German, Italian, and Japanese troops. This enlarged force went on the offensive the next day and took all but the inner walled city of Tientsin. On the twenty-fifth, the international force relieved Seymour's expedition, which had been held up for a month at the Hsi-Ku Arsenal north of Tientsin.11

The Ninth U.S. Infantry arrived on July 6 and joined the allied forces near Tientsin. The number of marines in China increased when Col. Robert L. Meade and 318 marines arrived on July 10 from the Philippines aboard the USS Brooklyn.12 This detachment of marines moved from the coast to Tientsin, where it joined Waller's battalion, and Meade took over command of the American forces. The next day, the allied force launched an attack against Tientsin to rid the walled inner city of the remaining Chinese and Boxer forces. The attacking force, under the command of a British general, included the marines, the Ninth U.S. Infantry, and British, French, German, Japanese, and Russian forces. Fighting took place most of the day with little to show for it. Of the 451 marines engaged in this action, seventeen enlisted men and four officers became casualties.13 A Japanese night attack broke through the Chinese defenses, allowing the international force to enter the walled city of Tientsin. This breakthrough triggered widespread looting of the city.

On July 30, U.S. Army Gen. Adna R. Chaffee arrived in Tientsin and took command of all U.S. forces in China.14 Arriving with Chaffee as part of the "China Relief Expedition" was one battalion of marines under the command of Major Biddle, two battalions of the Fourteenth U.S. Infantry, the Sixth U.S. Cavalry, and one battery from the Fifth U.S. Artillery. The expedition's main goal was to relieve the legations in Peking and protect American interests in China. On August 4, the international expedition of approximately 18,000 left Tientsin for Peking; Chaffee's force of approximately 2,500 Americans included 482 marines.15 On August 5, Japanese forces engaged and defeated the Chinese at Pei-tsang. The next day, part of the international force, including the marines, fought successfully at Yangstun. Many members of the international force suffered from heat exhaustion during the eighty-mile march as a result of the high temperatures and occasional fighting from Tientsin to Peking.16

On the fourteenth, the international force reached Peking and relieved the legations. Upon reaching Peking, the marine unit stopped near the north gate while a platoon went to the top of the wall to stop sniper fire and set up protection for the artillery. Two privates and Lt. Smedley Butler were wounded.17 The next day, marines participated in the advance on the Imperial City.18 After fighting in Peking came to an end, light resistance continued in various parts of China. Most of this activity was combated by German troops until the Boxer Protocol (a formal peace treaty) was signed in September 1901.19

By the time the siege was lifted, the Legation Guard had suffered eighteen casualties. Seven enlisted men were killed, and eleven members of the Legation Guard were wounded, including Captain Myers and Assistant Surgeon Lippitt.20 In early September, the detachment left Peking for Tientsin and guarded the sick and refugees along the way. The enlisted men of the Legation Guard returned to the ships on which they had served before being detached for service in China. Captain Myers was sent to the Naval Hospital in Yokohama, Japan, and Captain Hall returned to the USS Newark.21

Additional marines had arrived in China in mid-August but did not participate in relieving Peking. At the end of September, the remaining marines in China were ordered back to the Philippines and shipped out on the Brooklyn, Zafiro, and Indiana.22

Shortly after Peking was relieved, U.S. Minister to China E. H. Conger wrote the secretary of state, "To our Marines fell the most difficult and dangerous portion of the defense by reason of our proximity to the great city wall, and the main city gates over which the large guns were planted. Our legation, with the position which we held on the wall, was the key to the whole situation."23 Conger went on to write that "the bravest and most successful event of the whole siege was an attack led by Captain Myers, of our Marines, and fifty-five men, Americans, British, and Russian, which resulted in the capture of a formidable barricade on the wall, defended by several hundred Chinese soldiers, over fifty of whom were killed."24

At a meeting held August 18, a group of American missionaries resolved that, "The Americans who have been besieged in Peking desire to express their hearty appreciation of the courage, fidelity, and patriotism of the American Marines, to whom we so largely owe our salvation." The group further resolved that, "by their bravery in holding an almost untenable position on the city wall in the face of overwhelming numbers, and in cooperating in driving the Chinese from a position of great strength, they made all foreigners in Peking their debtors, and have gained for themselves an honorable name among the heroes of their country."25

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This group of U.S. Marines was part of the international relief expedition sent to lift the siege of Peking.

Individual honors were bestowed on many marines in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion. Thirty-three enlisted men were awarded the Medal of Honor, including the first medal awarded to a marine posthumously. Pvt. Harry Fisher was killed on July 16 while helping erect a barricade near the wall in Peking. Pvt. Dan Daly received his first Medal of Honor for volunteering to stay alone on the bastion of the wall while undergoing constant fire from the enemy on the night of July 15.26 Marine Corps officers were not eligible for Medals of Honor until 1913. Instead, officers noted for bravery in action were usually distinguished by being "advanced in numbers" in their rank or sometimes awarded brevet rank. For example, Capt. John Myers was advanced four numbers and brevetted a major; 1st Lt. Smedley Butler was advanced two numbers and brevetted a captain; and 1st Lt. Henry Leonard was advanced two numbers.27 Butler and Leonard had been singled out in a report to Meade by the British officer in charge of the action against Tientsin on July 13, "Among many instances of personal bravery in the action I propose specially to bring to notice in despatches the conduct of 1st Lieut. Smedley D. Butler, United States Marine Corps, in bringing in a wounded man from the front under heavy and accurate fire; Lieut. Butler was wounded while so doing but I am glad to learn not seriously. The Regimental Adjutant First Lieutenant Henry Leonard, as Lieut. Butler was suffering severely, volunteered to carry him out of the firing line. This gallant feat he successfully accomplished, but I regret to say was very dangerously wounded in so doing."28 In addition, three officers who served in the Boxer Rebellion went on to become Commandants of the Marine Corps.29

Genealogical Research

The total number of marines sent to China during the Boxer Rebellion was 49 officers and 1,151 enlisted men.30 Service records for enlisted marines who served in the Boxer Rebellion are held in either the Old Military and Civil Records unit at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., or at the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records) in St. Louis, Missouri. Generally, service records for enlisted marines who separated from service prior to 1905 are held in Washington, D.C., and service records for enlisted marines who separated after 1905 are held in St. Louis. Researchers requesting copies of these files through the mail should use an NATF Form 80 [see NATF note], "National Archives Order For Copies of Veterans Records," for records located in Washington, D.C., and a Standard Form 180, "Request Pertaining to Military Records," for personnel files in St. Louis.

Service records or "case files" of enlisted marines at the National Archives are found in Record Group 127, Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, entry 76. Service records may include: enlistment and reenlistment papers, descriptive lists, conduct records, notice of discharge, military history, and the issuance of campaign badges and awards. There are two series of case files. The first (marines who enlisted prior to 1895) is arranged by date of enlistment or last reenlistment. If the enlistment date is unknown, researchers can use the card index found in Record Group 127, entry 75, "Alphabetical Card List of Enlisted Men of the Marine Corps, 1798–1941." The second series of case files, for those marines who enlisted after 1895, is arranged alphabetically. It should be noted that it was not unusual for enlisted marines to use aliases during this period. Service records and enlistment cards are filed under the name the marine used while in service.

Military personnel files for marine officers who served in the Boxer Rebellion are held in St. Louis. The National Personnel Records Center has records for all marine officers separated from service after 1895. A good source to verify service as a marine officer is the List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900, edited by Edward W. Callahan.

Some information on officers may be found at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., in volume two (1899–1904) of entry 67, "Record of Military Service of Marine Corps Officers," in Record Group 127. This volume includes information such as date and place of birth, state from which appointed, state of residence, date of commission, and military service for 1889–1904.

Several reports related to marines in the Boxer Rebellion may be found in Record Group 127, entry 26, "Reports Relating to Engagements of Marine Corps Personnel in the Philippines and China, 1899–1901," and Record Group 80, General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1798–1947, entry 19, File #6320. Letters and reports not located in these two entries might be found in RG 127, entry 10, (Commandant's) "Letters Received, 1819–1903." This series is arranged alphabetically by initial letter of one of the following: surname of the correspondent, ship name, place name, location of marine barracks or duty station, name of the person concerned, or subject of the letter; then chronologically under each letter.31

For a consolidated list of the Peking Legation Guards, see the "Names of the officers and enlisted men of the U.S. Marine Corps who were members of the Legation Guard during the siege of Pekin, China," found in RG 127, entry 26.32 The names of other marines involved in the Boxer Rebellion can be found in muster rolls in RG 127. Marine Corps muster rolls are arranged chronologically by year, then by month, and then by duty stations, units, ship detachments, and expeditionary forces. The muster rolls contain the names of officers and enlisted men, rank, date of enlistment/reenlistment, and date of transfer to or from another duty station including detached service.33 The muster rolls for this time period have been reproduced as part of National Archives Microfilm Publication T977, U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 18931958 (461 rolls). The muster rolls for July to September 1900 are available on T977, roll 21. This microfilm may be viewed in the Microfilm Reading Room at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.34

Campaign badges for service in the Boxer Rebellion were authorized by Navy Department Special Order No. 82 in 1908. The order authorized China Campaign Badges "to be issued to officers and enlisted men of the Marine Corps who served ashore in China with the Peking Relief Expedition, between May 24, 1900, and May 27, 1901, and the Legation Guard at Peking."35 As noted above, an individual's service record usually shows when the badge was issued and the campaign badge number. Many of these badges are listed in Record Group 127, entry 106, "Register of Badges, Medals and Bars Issued, 1908–1911."

Additional information of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps involvement in the Boxer Rebellion can be found in U.S. Navy deck logs in Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. The logbooks are arranged by name of a vessel and include daily entries for the ship. Naval vessels involved in China during the Boxer Rebellion include: USS Brooklyn, Buffalo, Iris, Monocacy, Nashville, New Orleans, Newark, Oregon, Solace, Wheeling, Yorktown, and Zafiro.

Contemporary accounts of the Boxer Rebellion can be found in the published annual reports of the Secretary of the Navy, Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the War Department for 1900 and 1901. These publications contain many official reports from officers in China. For narrative histories of the Marine Corps' role in the Boxer Rebellion, see Robert D. Heinl's Soldiers of the Sea: The United States Marine Corps, 1775–1962, and Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps by Alan R. Millett.

Note: NATF Form 80 was discontinued in November 2000. Use NATF 85 for military pension and bounty land warrant applications, and NATF 86 for military service records for Army veterans discharged before 1912.

See also this related article:


Chinese place names that appear in this article are those used in 1900 and are spelled as they appear in the U.S. military reports.

1. First Lt. J. R. Lindsey to Maj. Gen. Adna R. Chaffee, Annual Reports of the War Department, Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1901, Vol. 1, pt. 6, pp. 454-459. Jonathan D. Spence, (The Search for Modern China1991), pp. 231–232.

2. Legations are official residences and offices of diplomatic ministers in a foreign country.

3. Robert D. Heinl, Soldiers of the Sea: The United States Marine Corps, 1775–1962 (1962), p. 127.

4. Capt. John T. Myers to Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Force on Asiatic Station, Sept. 26, 1900, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1901, pp. 1266–1270. The sailors from USS Newark included three blue jackets, one chief machinist, and one hospital apprentice. Chief Machinist Peterson arrived on June 3.

5. The foreign sailors and marines included: 35 Austrians, 82 British, 48 French, 51 Germans, 25 Japanese, 81 Russians, and 29 Italians. First Lt. J. R. Lindsey to Maj. Gen. Adna R. Chaffee, Annual Reports of the War Department, Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1901, Vol. 1, pt. 6, pp. 454–459. Heinl, Soldiers of the Sea, p. 130.

6. Capt. John T. Myers to Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Force on Asiatic Station, Sept. 26, 1900, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1901, pp. 1266–1270. Spence, Search for Modern China, pp. 233-234.

7. Capt. John T. Myers to Brigadier-General Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps, Mar. 28, 1901, Reports Relating to Engagements of Marine Corps Personnel in the Philippines and China, 1899–1901, entry 26, Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, Record Group (RG) 127, National Archives Building (NAB), Washington, DC.

8. One Englishman and a Russian were also wounded during the assault. Myers's wound healed, but he soon came down with typhoid fever.

9. Report of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1900, p. 1116.

10. Littleton W. T. Waller to Second in Command, United States Naval Force, Asiatic Station, June 22, 1900, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1900, pp. 1148–1149.

11. Littleton W. T. Waller to Brigadier-General Commandant, U.S. Marines, June 28, 1900, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1900, pp. 1150-1152.

12. Heinl, Soldiers of the Sea, p. 133.

13. One officer was killed, and three were wounded.

14. Although General Chaffee was assigned to command American troops in China on June 26, 1900, he did not arrive in China until July 30. See Corbin to MacArthur, June 26, 1900, Correspondence Relating to the War With Spain (1902), Vol. 1, p. 419. Maj.-Gen. Adna R. Chaffee to Adjutant-General, USA, Sept. 1, 1900, Annual Reports of the War Department, For the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1900, Vol. 1, pt. 9, pp. 31- 43.

15. The marines accounted for 453 enlisted men and 29 officers.

16. W. P. Biddle to Major-General Commanding United States Forces, Aug. 20, 1900, Annual Reports of the Navy Department, 1901, pp. 1276–1277. Maj.-Gen. Adna R. Chaffee to Adjutant- General, USA, Sept. 1, 1900, Annual Reports of the War Department, For the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1900, Vol. 1, pt. 9, pp. 31–43.

17. Biddle to Major-General Commanding United States Forces, Aug. 20, 1900, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1901, Report "B," p. 1278.

18. Biddle to Major-General Commanding United States Forces, Aug. 20, 1900, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1901, Report "C," p. 1278.

19. Spence, Search for Modern China, p. 235.

20. Report of Wounded and Killed, G. A. Lung, Aug. 26, 1900, File 6320-65, General Correspondence, 1897–1915, entry 19, General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1798–1947, RG 80, NAB.

21. Report of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1901, p. 1232.

22. Report of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1901, p. 1234.

23. Ibid., p. 1232.

24. Extract from Report of Minister Conger to the Secretary of State, Aug. 17, 1900, entry 26, RG 127, NAB.

25. Attached to E. H. Conger to Maj. W. P. Biddle, Aug. 20, 1900, entry 26, RG 127, NAB.

26. N. H. Hall to J. T. Myers, Aug. 30, 1900, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1901, pp. 1270–1271. Dan Daly was awarded a second Medal of Honor for service in Haiti in 1915.

27. "Awards For Services in China," entry 26, RG 127, NAB.

28. Brig. Gen. A.R.F Dorward to Col. Robert Meade, July 15, 1900, ibid.

29. Officers who went on to become Commandants were: William P. Biddle, Wendell C. Neville, and Ben H. Fuller.

30. Report of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Annual Reports of the Navy Department for the Year 1900, p. 1132.

31. Researchers interested in additional files related to the Boxer Rebellion may want to consult Area 10 records found in the Area Files of the Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, RG 45, NAB. These records have been reproduced on NARA Microfilm Publication M625, Area File of the Naval Records Collection, 1775–1910 (414 rolls). Microfilm rolls 377 to 383 cover documents for May 1, 1900, to August 31, 1900.

32. Identifying marines in the Peking Legation can also be done by checking the May and June 1900 Marine Corps muster rolls of the USS Newark and the USS Oregon.

33. Muster rolls also show date of desertion, sick in the hospital, and minor infractions and punishments.

34. The microfilming of Microfilm Publication T977 has not yet been completed. Rolls covering 1893–1940 are available at the National Archives Building. Once microfilming is complete, rolls covering 1941–1958 will be available at the National Archives at College Park, MD. Contact military textual reference in College Park for reference service on the original bound volumes for 1940–1945. Reference service for the post-1945 muster rolls is provided by the Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, DC.

35. Special Orders, Number 82, Navy Department, July 27, 1908.


Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.