COLONEL and BREVET BRIGADIER GENERAL
ARCHIBALD HENDERSON, USMC
Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Archibald Henderson, fifth Commandant of the Marine Corps, was born in Colchester, Virginia, on 21 January 1783. He was appointed a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 4 June 1806; promoted to first lieutenant 6 March 1807; to captain 1 April 1811; and was appointed a major, by brevet, in the year 1814.
As a captain during the War of 1812, he participated in the engagements with the Cyane and Levant on 20 February 1815. He received a silver medal and was included in the thanks of Congress to the officers and men of the Constitution for gallant service. He was later presented with a jeweled sword by the State of Virginia.
During the years subsequent to the second war with Great Britain, until the year he was appointed Commandant, Brevet Major Henderson was on duty at such posts and stations as Boston, Massachusetts; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps; and at New Orleans, Louisiana.
On 17 October 1820, at the age of 37, LtCol Henderson was appointed as the Commandant of the Marine Corps. He served in this position for a little over 38 years--the longest of any officer to hold that position. The years 1820 to 1835 were marked by no very unusual or outstanding activities on the part of the Marine Corps other than its part in the suppression of piracy in the West Indies, and the operations in the early 1830's against the pirates of Quallah Battoo.
During the 1836-37 war with the Seminole and Creek Indians in Georgia and Florida, in which the Marine Corps took an active part, Col Henderson, as Commandant, went in person into the field with his command sharing in the dangers and exposures of that campaign. For his services in checking Indian hostilities, he was advanced to the brevet rank of brigadier general.
During the Mexican War, which was preceded by much military activity on the part of the Marine Corps during the years 1845-46 on the West Coast, Col Henderson ably administered the affairs of the Marine Corps. The success attained by the Corps during the war, including its expansion and development from a small fighting force into a well recognized and very formidable arm of the nation's military forces, was due in no small measure to the leadership and ability of its Commandant.
During the years subsequent to the Mexican war and prior to the Civil war, the Marine Corps, under the ever-watchful eye and direction of its venerable Commandant, was by no means an idle organization. In 1852-53, the Marines took part in the famous expeditions of Commodore Perry to Japan. In 1855 they participated in an expedition to Uruguay as a result of an insurrection at Montevidio, and in 1856 had an engagement with hostile Indians at Seattle, Washington Territory. Also, during the same year, they took part in the capture of the Barrier Forts in China.
In the year 1857 during the "Know Nothing" political excitement, the Marines were ordered upon the request of the mayor of Washington, D.C., to suppress an armed mob of "hired roughs and bullies" that had been imported from Baltimore to take possession of the election booths, the situation having beyond the control of the civil authorities. During the serious riot, when a cannon was put into position by a large crowd of "Plug Uglies" and others who threatened the Marines, Col Henderson deliberately placed his body against the muzzle, thereby preventing it from being aimed at the Marines, just at the moment when it was about to be discharged.
Colonel Henderson passed away quietly on the afternoon of 6 January 1859. His remains were interred in the Congressional Cemetery in southeast Washington, D.C. The Navy transport, USS Henderson, was named in his memory.
Commandants of the Marine Corps