FEDERAL TROOPS IN DOMESTIC DISTURBANCES By Major George S. Patton, Jr., Cavalry
When I was a cadet, all plebes were required to memorize the definition of leather, which, if time has not dulled my memory, ran thus, “If the fresh skin of an animal be divested of hair and other extraneous matter and be immersed in a saturated solution of tannic acid, chemical combinations occur which transform the hide into a fibrous tissue insoluble in and impervious to water; this is leather.”
Similarly, when the subject of this conference is immersed in the cerebral fluid of Regular Soldiers, it emerges not theory, but tactics.
The chemistry of legal phraseology and erudite philosophy which produce these tactics are in fact as little germane to our work as are the metamorphoses of the tanning vat.
Since, however, no picture is wholly satisfactory without a background, we shall make a brief examination of the historical and legal aspect of the subject before entering upon it’s tactics.
Scarcely was Washington inaugurated than the need for federal intervention in domestic disturbances became emphasized by the so called “Whiskey Rebellion.” From that episode until the present time, federal troops have been called out more than a hundred times to participate in these most distasteful forms of service. While the majority of these incidents were insignificant, some dozen of them reached major proportions. Of these we may mention the following;
The “Dorr Rebellion” in Rhode Island in 1842; the Abolition disturbances in Kansas between 1854 and 1858; the railroad strikes of 1877, extending through West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana; the Chicago strike of 1894; the San Francisco fire of 1906; the West Virginia coal strikes of 1921; and lastly, the “Bonus War” of 1932
We, of the Army, should take pride in the fact that not once in all of these cases have our predecessors either failed or been guilty of unnecessary violence. It must be our aim to maintain this proud tradition whenever it shall be our unfortunate duty to be called on for such onerous service.
Remember that when the Army has done it’s duty, liberty has flourished and that when it has failed, riot has changed into rebellion. Indeed, the epitaphs of those countless nations dead of the suicide of insurrection should bear these words, “DIED THIS DATE DUE TO THE FAILURE OF IT’S SOLDIERS.”
When under Marius, Rome’s first regulars blotted out in blood the mobs roused by those generous and misguided brothers, the Grachae. She prospered and from a debating society became the mistress of the world and so remained until, at last, the venal and disloyal Pretorian Guard “sold the purple” to the highest bidder and thereby destroyed the power that no foe could conquer.
When the foolish and genial Louis XVI lost his head and the Seine ran crimson to the sea, the fault lay not with the people, but with the soldiers. Yet less than ten years later, Napoleon with a “whiff of grape shot” destroyed the mob and saved, only to usurp, the directorate.
As General Knox clearly shows, the success of the Bolsheviks in 1917 was due wholly to the hesitating and weak character of the Russian officers. While in Germany, on the other hand, a loyal and well lead army destroyed the course of communism before it could ever raise it’s ugly head above the ruins of a war weary nation.
It is a curious fact that despite the ill usage which English speaking nations have habitually accorded to their regular army members in peacetime, these “Brutal and licentious Mercenaries” have never yet bit the hand which starved them, nor failed in any way to support constituted authority. Even in the Civil War when more than twenty percent of the officers went south, not a single enlisted man deserted the flag.
THE LEGAL ASPECT:
Due to the combined effect of ignorance and careless diction, there is widespread misunderstanding of the principle terms used in connection with the enforcement of law by military means. Now while the particular name appropriate to the type of duty in the performance of which he is killed makes very little difference to the corpse, it is desirable that officers should know enough to select the proper word with which to head a report or proclamation.
The three terms most frequently used are; Military Government; Martial Law; and, Duty in Connection with Domestic Disturbances.
MILITARY GOVERNMENT supplants and replaces the laws heretofore existing in enemy territory which is occupied by our military forces. General Scott initiated our system in Mexico in 1847. To carry out his rule under this system, he invented the two forms of court we now recognize as appropriate; namely, Military Commissions for the trial of major civil and criminal crimes, and Provost Courts for the trial of minor offenses.
Military Government has also been exercised by the United States in Cuba, the Philippines, Vera Cruz, and lastly in occupied Germany.
MARTIAL LAW supplants and possibly replaces to a limited extent the laws heretofore existing in our own territory in cases where the civil authority being ineffective, the State or National Government, through it’s military forces, controls the civil population without the authority of written law, but as necessity may require.
Wellington put it aptly when he said, “Martial Law is not law at all, it is merely the will of the commander.”
From the Federal viewpoint, and this is the one which interests us, Martial Law can be used by the President or by a Military Commander where, in the case of foreign invasion, security and national defense demands it. (See Jackson at New Orleans in 1814). Or in the case of a rebellion, it may be used by order of the President, in disaffected territory or in border states. (See New Mexico, Kentucky, and Maryland during the Civil War).
While I am no lawyer, it seems to me that Martial Law would also be appropriate to any serious disturbance in the District of Columbia.
In passing, it should be noted that in accordance with it’s definition, Martial Law will be more frequently used by individual States than by the United States.
The use of Federal Troops in this case differs from the two previous examples in that; the military is used not to displace existing laws, but to sustain them when, by reason of obstructions, their effectual administration by normal legal methods becomes impossible.
The authority for the use of Federal Troops in Domestic Disturbances is derived from the following sources;
The United States Constitution:
Article I. Section 8, provides that, “Congress shall have powers to raise and support armies . and to provide for the calling forth of the Militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrection, or to repel invasions.”
Article II. Sections 2 and 3 provide that, “The President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States when called into the service of the United States and that he shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed.”
Article IV. Section 8 provides that, “The United States shall “Guarantee to every state in this Union a republican form of government,” “Protect each of them against invasion,” and “Protect each of them against domestic violence (on application of the legislature, or of the executive when the legislature cannot be convened).”
Other Federal Statutes:
R.S.5297 provides, “In case of insurrection in any State against the government thereof, it shall be lawful for the President, on the application of the legislature of such State, or of the Executive, when the legislature cannot be convened, to call forth such number of the militia of any other state or states . as he deems sufficient to suppress such insurrection, or . such part of the land and naval forces of the United States as he deems necessary.”
R.S.5298 provides, “Whenever by reason of unlawful obstructions, combinations or assemblages of persons, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, it shall become impracticable, in the JUDGMENT OF THE PRESIDENT, to enforce, by the ordinary laws of judicial procedure, the laws of the United States within any State or Territory, it shall be lawful for the President . to employ such part of the land and naval forces of the United States as he may deem necessary to enforce the lawful execution of the laws of the United States .”
R.S.5299 provides, “Whenever insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combinations, or conspiracies in any State so obstructs or hinders the execution of the laws thereof, and of the United States, as to deprive any portion or class of the people of such State of rights, privileges, or immunities, or protection named in the Constitution . and the constituted authorities of such State are unable or unwilling, or refuse to protect the people in such rights . or whenever such insurrection, etc., opposes or obstructs the laws of the United States or the due execution thereof . it shall be lawful for the President, and it shall be his duty, to take such means . by the employment of the land and naval forces of the United States, as he deems necessary . for the suppression of such insurrections, etc.”
R.S.5300 provides, “Whenever, in the judgment of the President, it becomes necessary to use the military forces under this title, the President shall, forthwith, by proclamation, command the insurgents to disperse and retire to their respective abodes, within a limited time.”
Army Regulations under No. 50050 “Employment of Troops” and “Enforcement of the Laws” cover the subject quite fully.
Section I. Recites the statutes and penalties concerning the use of troops as a “posse comitatus.”
Section II. In addition to quoting the constitutional and statutory authorities already referred to, this section gives a long list of sundry other acts of Congress authorizing and defining the use of Federal Troops in special cases, most of which are now practically impossible of occurrence.
These statutes cover; Public Lands, Peonage, Public Health, Indians, Extradition, Neutrality, Guano Islands, and Customs.
The section then goes on to specify the actions governing the use of Federal Troops in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Hawaii.
These statutes are identical in spirit and in general specify that; the Governor may call on the Commanders of Military or Naval forces of the United States to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, insurrection, or rebellion. Further, if the public safety demands it, he may suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus or place the islands or a part of them under Martial Law. Provided, “That whenever a Governor exercises any of the above authorities he shall at once notify the President of his act and of the reasons for it.”
Section III of A.R.50050 specifies the procedure governing the use of Federal Troops in Domestic Disturbances.
Par.5. Application for Troops, specifies:
a. “Application for the use of troops should originate with the civil authority. This application should be made to the President. In case the application is made by civil authority directly to a local commander; Such commander, whenever time admits, must forward the application to the War Department, with a statement of all material facts, for the consideration and action of the President.”
b. Emergency, “In the case of sudden and unexpected invasion, insurrection, or riot, endangering the public property of the United States, or in case of attempted or threatened robbery or interruption of the United States mails, or other equivalent emergency so imminent as to render it dangerous to await instruction . an officer of the army may take such action before the receipt of instruction as the circumstances of the case . justify, and will promptly report his action, and the circumstances requiring it to the Adjutant General . for the information of the President.”
Here is repeated the requirement of R.S.5300.
a. “In the enforcement of laws, troops are employed as a part of the military power of the United States and act under the orders of the President as Commander in Chief.”
b. “They cannot be directed to act under the orders of any civil officer.”
c. “The commanding officers of troops so employed are directly responsible to their military superiors.”
d. “Any unlawful or unauthorized act on their part would NOT be excusable on the ground of an order or request received by them from a Marshall or any other civil authority.”
a. “Troops called into action against a mob forcibly resisting or obstructing the execution of the laws of the United States or attempting to destroy property belonging to, or under the protection of, the United States are governed by the general regulations of the Army and apply military tactics in respect to the manner in which they shall act to accomplish the desired end.”
b. “It is a purely tactical question in what manner they shall use the weapons with which they are armed; whether by fire of musketry and artillery, or by the use of the bayonet and saber, or by both, and at what stage of the operations each or either mode of attack shall be employed. This tactical question shall be decided by the immediate commander of the troops, according to his judgment of the situation. The fire of troops SHOULD be withheld until timely warning has been given to the innocent who may be mingled with the mob. Troops must never fire into a crowd unless ordered by their commanding officer, EXCEPT that single selected sharp shooters may shoot down individual rioters who have FIRED UPON or THROWN MISSILES AT the troops. As a general rule, only the bayonet (or saber) should be used against mixed crowds in the first stages of a revolt, but as soon as sufficient warning has been given to enable the innocent to separate themselves from the guilty, the action of the troops should be governed solely by the tactical considerations involved in the duty they are ordered to perform. They should make their flow so effective as to promptly suppress all resistance to lawful authority, and should stop the destruction of life the moment lawless resistance has ceased. Punishment belongs not to the troops, but to the courts of justice.”
As strange as it may seem, this loquacious document is very reticent on Domestic Disturbances. All it has to say is found in T.R. 105, par.9, “Troops of the combat branches, in addition to their training for war, will be trained in the tactics for the suppression of domestic disturbances, the guiding method to be employed being a demonstration of force, followed, if necessary, by it’s application in a speedy and decisive manner.”
This is the next item that rises to plague us. Habeas Corpus is a writ issued by a judge and sent to the custodian of a prisoner directing that the custodian present the body of the prisoner in the court so that judgment may be passed as to whether or not the arrest and restraint are legal.
If a state or municipal judge serves a regular officer holding a prisoner with such a writ the officer should politely inform the court, in writing, that he holds the prisoner by the authority of the United States government and therefore is not amenable to the writ. If the writ is served on him by a federal judge, it is his duty to produce the prisoner at the time and place directed. When the writ is suspended, of course, this statement does not apply.
After an emergency is over, officers and men who have been engaged in the suppression of riots, etc. are liable to both civil and criminal prosecution for acts they have performed or are alleged to have performed.
If they have acted under orders of the President their defense is clear. If due to the gravity of the emergency, they have acted on their own responsibility, their defense rests on the plea of necessity.
As a matter of fact, no officer need bother his head or modify his actions due to fear of this academic danger, for a leading legal authority points out, “In no instance, so far as I am aware, has an English or American jury allowed an officer or soldier to suffer for acts done with any shadow of right in repelling invasion or quelling a mob.”
Let me recapitulate the lessons of history and law.
Throughout history good soldiers have quelled riots and often as a result have achieved promotion and fame. Bad soldiers have failed and as a result their countries have perished.
As junior officers, we simply obey the orders of our superiors. As independent commanders there is a very remote possibility that we may have to back our judgment with our commissions. Officers in command of troops on riot duty should remember the following points;
- 1. Take no orders from civil officials; federal, state, or municipal.
- 2. Take no orders from National Guard or Reserve officers unless they have been mustered into the federal service and you have proof that they are so mustered.
- 3. You may and should cooperate with police or state troops who may be present; but you and not they are the judge of the amount and character of this cooperation. In the “Bonus War,” for example, certain people strongly urged Major Surles to move several blocks out of his way to attack a building. Had he done so, he would have gotten in a lot of trouble as the house in question was full of women and children. It was my belief, and I see no reason to change it, that this advice was given with the deliberate intention of producing embarrassment to the Army.
- 4. Get your orders in writing. If the orders are dictated, that is oral, commit them to writing, read them back to the issuing officer, and ask him to initial them. If this is not practicable have several witnesses sign the orders and state that they heard them issued. Save that order. Some people have strange memories when it is necessary to pass the buck.
- 5. Before firing at a mob, warn them of your intention and tell innocent people to leave. Ask several members of your command to note the time and place at which you issued the warning.
- 6. Designate in advance certain sharpshooters to kill individual rioters who fire on or throw missiles at your men. Have this firing done ONLY on your order or that of a commissioned officer; at least in the first instance.
- 7. Get the names of several men who saw the shooting or throwing. Usually such witnesses are easy to find.
- 8. Should some orator start haranguing the crowd and inciting them to violence, grab him even if it brings on a local, small fight. Small fights are better than big ones. Words cunningly chosen change crowds into mobs.
- 9. If you have captured a dangerous agitator and some “misguided” federal judge issues a writ of Habeas Corpus for him, try to see the judge to find out what he is liable to do. If he seems prone to releasing the man, let your conscience be your guide. The legal phrase, “To present the body of the prisoner to the court,” has a sinister and suggestive sound. There’s always a danger that the man might attempt to escape. If he does, see that he at least falls out of ranks before you shoot him. To be soft hearted might mean death to your men. After all, WAR IS WAR.
- 10. Do not enrage reporters, but also, don’t tell them too much or boast of your prowess to them. They dislike tear gas and are not provided with masks.
- 11. Finally, do your full duty as you see it and damn the consequences. Lord Allenby once said to me in speaking of his suppression of the riots in Cairo, “I have always thought that it is far better that a certain number of innocent students should perish than that the future of a great nation should be jeopardized.”
During the foregoing, I have tried to give you what may be called the “Law and the Prophets” of Riot Duty. While this investigation is of interest, it is hardly vital. Tactics, which we shall now examine, are the real heart of the subject.
Due to the usual conservatism of the Federal Government, Federal Troops are seldom, if ever, called into action until conditions have gotten very seriously out of hand. Hence, when we arrive, force is the only alternative. This being so, the study of CROWD TACTICS is superfluous. However, should we arrive before real violence has started, it is well to remember that if we can prevent the formations of CROWDS, then MOBS cannot be born.
Under favorable circumstances, crowds can be dispersed by strong patrols and may be kept from reforming by the same method. However, the officer attempting such a line of action must see to it that an adequate and mobile support is immediately available for should the crowd suddenly get violent, and destroy a patrol, it must be instantly punished, or else it will develop a false sense of power and then it will become very dangerous.
The most pertinent criticism I have heard about the “Bonus War” came from a little bookkeeper in Boston. He said, “Wasn’t it just like Hoover! First he would do nothing and let the crowd think it was some pumpkins, then he used force just too soon. Had he waited another day, buildings would have been burned and people killed. Then when he sent in the Army everyone would have been for him.”
In order to stop a riot we must get to the scene of trouble, usually a city.
There are three methods of approach. By rail, by bus, or by marching.
In approaching by rail, be sure that there are no sympathizers at the entraining point who may attempt to interfere with your embarkation. If there is any possibility of this, entrain outside the railroad yards at some siding which may be easily guarded.
Upon arriving near your destination, stop in ample time to detrain outside the yards which, since they are invariably situated in the slums, will be hotbeds of disorder. When the train stops at the point selected by you, establish an outpost to cover the debarkation.
While the railroad officials are in theoretical charge of the train, have an officer located on the engine who will stop the train on signal from you. Have a pull cord, or else rig a buzzer for this purpose.
If there is the least likelihood of attempts to dynamite the track, have several flat cars pushed ahead of the engine and have an officer with a machine gun on the leading car, protected by sand bags. Under such circumstances, examine all trestles, bridges, and tunnels before entering.
When approaching by truck, have an advance guard in Armored Cars or protected trucks precede the main column. Do not enter the city in trucks because in such a case you are helpless. Detruck well outside in the open and establish an outpost at once.
When approaching by marching, put out security detachments in time. Have two trucks, with machine guns mounted, following the tail of advance guard so that any hostile attempt to disrupt the march by motor cars rushing the column may be dealt with.
As in all military operations, information is vital. By the use of detectives, soldiers in civilian clothes, and friendly citizens, get all possible information about the condition within the city. In particular, locate on a map the position of public utilities, banks, commercial districts, residential districts, armories, sporting goods stores, and other places of importance. Also the general focal points of the disturbance and the names of the leaders. It may be desirable to fly over the city to become oriented. If fired upon while in the air, reply at once with small bombs and machine gun fire.
From the information secured, arrange your axis of approach so as to drive the mob into the poor quarter and away from vital areas.
The use of gas is paramount. It may be used by hand grenades with a range of 25 yards, rifle grenades with a range of 250 yards, or bombs and stokes mortars. While tear gas is effective, it should be backed up with vomiting gas.
Although white phosphorus is incendiary, it is useful in forming a screen for the attack of barricades and defended houses.
Next in order of importance come the saber, the bayonet, and the club. In the case of dismounted troops, do not close in on a mob with the bayonet or club if you are largely outnumbered. If the mob refuses to disperse, give them a fixed time, perhaps five minutes. Call the minutes so they can hear. If they are unheeding, lob some gas into the rear of the crowd at exactly the end of the period. If this fails to move them, open fire with one man per squad for a frontal attack while at the same time have men in houses shoot into the rear ranks selecting apparent leaders. Always fire for effect. Due to over shooting of the battle sight at short range, caution the men to fire at the knees of the crowd. If it is necessary to use machine guns, aim at their feet. If you must fire, DO A GOOD JOB. A few casualties become martyrs; a large number becomes an object lesson.
With mounted men even small numbers may charge with impunity with the saber. At first use the flat side, but if real resistance occurs, use the point and try for lethal effect near the belt line. Never allow a man to be pulled from his horse. If this happens, use pistols and give a GOOD lesson.
Artillery fire may be used against barricades or defended buildings or with shrapnel cut at zero to clear streets in really serious fighting.
In general, never halt, except to give warning with a time limit and act instantly at the end of the period specified. Never permit a mob to gain a success. Should they do so, make instant and vigorous reprisals. When a mob starts to move, keep it on the run but always leave it a line of retreat; a cornered rat will fight desperately, while on the other hand, movement to the rear engenders panic.
In an attack, move first against the flanks via side streets using cavalry. While this action is in progress, start a rear attack also with cavalry but don’t push it home. Finally, make the frontal attack.
Tanks are useful against barricades or for forcing doors of houses but they must be closely supported by infantry as they can be rushed and destroyed by gasoline. Such a success encourages a mob.
In moving to the scene of trouble, secure guides and avoid poor or disaffected quarters. Use security detachments with reduced distance.
As you get close to the enemy, send two squads along each side walk. The first man looks to the front, the second in file looks to the opposite side of the street. The third man is responsible for doors and windows on the first floor on his side of the street. The fourth man watches second story openings on the opposite side of the street. The remaining men watch upper stories and roofs on the opposite sides of the street. When reaching a cross street, look down the street and then get the leading squads across. When the main body arrives, send a squad down the side street one block to prevent flank fire while the main body is crossing. This squad rejoins the rear of the column, hence, should be detailed from the rear company.
If an enemy is met in a street, deploy completely across the street in close order and direct him to fall back, unless he is in equal or smaller numbers, in which case keep moving and use the bayonet to encourage his retreat. If they are running, a few good wounds in the buttocks will encourage them. If they resist, they must be killed.
As stated above, the frontal attack should follow flanking and rear operations.
If the enemy occupies a park or square, use normal methods of attack with emphasis on flanks and rear.
If he is barricaded, the effect of modern rifle fire is so great that he can usually be shot out of the barricade with direct fire, aided by gas and offensive grenades. In the face of very serious resistance, and lacking artillery, it may be necessary to use roof detachments paralleling the head of the column along the roofs. Firemen, if available, should accompany these detachments with ladders and breaching equipment. It may be necessary to fight down to the street through the houses on the flanks of the obstacle. In such operations, gas dropped down stair wells is effective.
In any operation keep a strongly formed reserve and if the need arises, use it ruthlessly.
On The Defensive:
When guarding buildings, mark a “DEAD” line and announce clearly that those who cross it will be killed. be sure to kill the first one who tries to cross it and to LEAVE HIM THERE to encourage the others.
Avoid Night Attacks:
When on the defensive use lights to illuminate the front. Automobile headlights are best as their power cannot be cut off.
If your intelligence is effective, you will soon learn where the leaders gather; a night raid on such a place will be most useful. No prisoners should be taken.
Never take a drink at anytime or allow your men to do so. Close all drinking establishments. This is illegal, but necessary; public opinion will sustain you.
Warn newspapers, theaters, and churches that if they encourage the mob, they are guilty of aiding them and that their leaders will be held personally accountable. Freedom of the press cannot be construed as “license to encourage” the armed enemies of the United States of America. An armed mob resisting federal troops is an armed enemy. To aid an enemy is TREASON. This may not be “law,” but it is fact. When blood starts running, law stops. By the fact of bloodshed, law has demonstrated it’s futility.
A brief statement regarding the “Bonus War” will be of interest first because in it every precept herein set down was violated or disregarded, and secondly because so swift is the flight of time, that soon no officer who participated in it will remain here at this post.
The “Bonus Army,” variously estimated at from 10 to 25 thousand men, congregated in Washington, D.C. during the early spring of 1932. The first arrivals were housed in some abandoned buildings near 4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Later arrivals were housed south of the Avenue in the same general vicinity. Then, a large camp was established just north of the Air Field on the so-called “Anacostia Flats.”
Owing to total misconception of Mob Psychology, General Glasford, the then Chief of Police of Washington, D.C., temporized with the marchers. As time went on, they violated more and more laws and regulations, and finally marched on the Capitol and the White House. By a trick, they were kept out of the Capitol. The police stopped the White House Column. By the same trick, Congress adjourned. There was no reason for the marchers to stay any longer so many of them went home. Others simply cashed the tickets given to them for their return trips and stayed on in the Capitol.
In my opinion, the majority of them were poor, ignorant men, without hope, and without really evil intent; but, there were several thousand bad men and many “weak sisters” who joined them.
Finally, the Treasury, to whom the buildings at 4th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue belonged, decided to evict the marchers so that contractors could destroy the buildings. The marchers refused to move. The police were called in and being used in a halfhearted manner, failed to do anything except to lose two policemen and to kill a couple of marchers.
For some weeks prior to all of this, the federal troops here were held at the Post at Fort Myer in readiness to move. The horses had been practiced in moving against mobs and the men were equipped with gas masks and a few gas grenades.
On July 28th, about 2:30 p.m. the 3d Cavalry, with a platoon of five Renault tanks, was ordered to move at once to the scene of trouble. The leading troop arrived in forty minutes. Notice should be made that we moved in column of fours without security detachments; the tanks in trucks, followed by themselves at about one mile behind. No outpost was established. We dismounted at the trouble area at the end of an hour. The battalion of the 12th Infantry from Fort Washington arrived in trucks having come right through the “Bonus Camp.” After a pause of another hour, the troops were ordered to march up Pennsylvania Avenue and to clear it as far as 3rd street. So far as I know, this was the only order issued for the first operation. The cavalry moved first in column of troops with the tanks in trucks between the last two troops. The infantry followed in column of fours. The avenue was a sea of people. It took us half an hour to clear them out and we had to use force. As we passed the occupied buildings, the marchers cheered us and called, “Here come our buddies.” The civilians in the crowd hissed us; in a mild way.
After a halt of half an hour at 3rd Street, the infantry put on their gas masks and while advancing in assault formation in two waves, used gas grenades to begin clearing the buildings. At first, the marchers seemed surprised, then some ran while others tried to throw the smoke candles and grenades back at the troops. Soon the gas began working and they all ran. Then they formed along the second Street south of the Avenue. Major Surles then moved his cavalry to push them on. We were doing very well when the infantry halted to reform and the mob, mad by now, began getting around the right of our line. Those in our front were very nasty and brandished clubs, iron bars, and bricks. They cursed us in a most wholehearted manner. The soldiers were magnificent. They sat grimly on their horses and made no reply except to poke an occasional marcher who tried to grab a horse by the head. Things kept looking worse as the infantry was still not up with us and our flank was turned. Suddenly, without a word of command, the whole line surged forward. Bricks flew, sabers rose and fell with a comforting smack, and the mob ran. We moved on after them, occasionally meeting serious resistance. Once, six men in a truck threw a regular barrage of bricks at us, several men and horses were hit. Two of us charged at a gallop and had some nice work at close range with the occupants of the truck, most of whom could not sit down for some days.
The Cavalry, moving via the streets, and the infantry, through the shacks, pushed the crowd to the railroad yard, where all resistance ended.
It was then decided to capture the camp at night. The men were fed and General MacArthur came up to gave explicit orders for the operation.
When we crossed the bridge at the Navy Yard, the infantry was in front. They had to use grenades to force the spectator crowd out of the way.
The cavalry formed at the north end of the camp with it’s right flank on the river while the infantry moving south along the edge of the water turned by the left flank and started to clear the camp. At this moment we were ordered to halt because the marchers said that if they were given an hour, they would withdraw. During this hour many left, but some set fire to their tents.
When the time was up, the infantry moved forward in a long line of skirmishers using grenades from time to time. If during this operation a single shot had been fired, many would have died, for in the dark on a flat plane, fire discipline could not have been maintained and there was no cover.
It speaks volumes for the high character of the men that not a shot was fired. In justice to the marchers, it should be pointed out that had they really wanted to start something, they had a great chance here, but refrained.
In closing, it seems to me that this was the first, and I fear the last, time in which the Regular Army acted against a crowd rather than against a mob. In spite of faulty methods, the high training and discipline of the soldiers and officers secured a complete and bloodless (mostly) triumph by which it’s success prevented a war and insured the election of a Democrat
The Bonus March of 1932 – Re MacArthur; Eisenhower; Patton, etc.
R. W. “Dick” Gaines
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