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Remembering the China Marines

18 Dec 2000 | Sgt. Todd Greenwood Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the Marine Corps? most famous engagements -- the defense of the American legation at Peking (now Beijing), China, and one of the most celebrated acts of valor in the history of the Corps.

Celebrated in the 1962 Charleston Heston blockbuster Thirty Days at Peking, Marine exploits at Peking and Tientsin were highlighted by the heroism of  legendary Marines such as then Lt. Smedley Butler and PVT. Daniel Joseph Daly.

Butler fought at Tientsin, where he was brevetted for hewroism while Daly was among Marines of the American legation guard and saw action when an anti-foreign secret society, the Fists of Righteous Harmony, also known as the Boxers, attacked Legation Quarter, the home of foreign diplomats and their families.

More than 20,000 strong, the Boxers marched through the gates of Peking unopposed by Chinese Imperial forces and laid siege to Legation Quarter. Daly and a force of 48 Marines and three sailors under the command of Capt. John T. Myers arrived in the capital on May 31, 1900, shortly before the city was surrounded by the Boxers.

Another detachment of Marines and Sailors under Capt. Newt Hall, USMC, was assigned to defend the Methodist mission located at some distance from the Legation.

In fighting to defend the Legation wall, Marines fought alongside German troops to repulse Chinese hand-to-hand attacks while withstanding artillery fire. At the insistence of Captain Myers, the Americans and Germans deserted the wall and moved back into the legation, probably avoiding defeat and massacre of the inhabitants of the legations. The Boxers next set up a to rake the defenders with concentrated fire.

The combined national forces held Legation Quarter under Myers leadership. Eventually, Capt. Hall, unable to hold his position at the Methodist church, organized his band of Marines into a surprise attack on the tower on the night of July 2. Hall took the Chinese tower in a demoralizing defeat for the Boxer forces.

Private Daly?s Congressional Medal of Honor citation states that he distinguished himself for meritorious conduct for acts of heroism on August 14, 1900. The most famous of Daly?s now-legendary exploits throughout the July-August defense of Legation Quarter was during the afternoon of July 13 when German soldiers had been driven back from their position on the east end of the wall. Daly volunteered to take up point and provide cover fire while repairs were made to the fortification.

Daly replied 'I?m your man' to Capt. Hall?s request for a volunteer.
Daly held his position, alone, throughout the course of the night, withstanding repeated Boxer assaults. Relieved at dawn, Daly was found to have accounted for more than 200 Boxer dead, subsequently allowing the Marines to reclaim the position the German forces had lost.

Although Boxer assaults continued at other portions of the legation wall, no further attempts were made at the position held by the Germans and Americans along the West wall.

While the Marines successfully defended Peking, a force of 2,000, including a detachment of one hundred and twelve American sailors and Marines under Navy Capt. B.H. McCalla was assembled from among ships of the foreign fleets off the coast.

McCalla was wounded three times in fighting in Tientsin and was later reinforced by 142 Marines led by Maj. W.T. Waller, USMC, who led Marines in heavy fighting for Tientsin and later relieved the Legation Guard in Peking.