Colonel Charles Grymes McCawley, eighth Commandant of the Marine Corps, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 29 January 1827. The son of a Marine captain (James McCawley, 1820-1836), he was commissioned a second lieutenant on 3 March 1847. Within a few weeks he saw action at Chapultepec, Mexico, a bitter struggle that today is commemorated in the famous Marines' Hymn -- "From the Halls of Montezuma..." For gallant and meritorious conduct in that action, 2dLt McCawley was promoted to brevet rank of first lieutenant.

For a period of 13 years, beginning in 1848, 1stLt McCawley performed duty at sea and at shore installations along the Atlantic coast.  After the beginning of the Civil War, he joined the battalion of Marines at Bay Point, South Carolina, returning with the unit to Washington in April 1862. During the following month he was sent in command of 200 Marines to reoccupy the Norfolk Navy Yard. That important establishment had been captured by the Confederates earlier in the war and they had evacuated it upon the approach of Federal forces under General Wool. General Wool's troops occupied the yard and turned it over to McCawley's detachment who again raised the Union flag over the station.

In July 1863, he joined the battalion of Marines ordered for service in the South Atlantic Squadron and served with that organization on Morris Island, South Carolina, during the bombardment and destruction of Fort Sumter. He participated in the bombardment and occupation of Forts Sumter and Gregg.

Captain McCawley commanded a detachment of nearly 125 Marines which acted as one of five naval divisions in a boat attack against Fort Sumter on the night of 8 September 1863. The attack, supported by heavy fire from the supporting vessels, resulted in considerable confusion and only a small part of the attacking force effected a landing and subsequently was forced to surrender. The boats under Captain McCawley's immediate control turned back with the remainder of the attacking force that did not make the landing. He was brevetted major for the part he took in this operation. He also served in operations on Folly Island and towards the close of the year returned with the battalion to Philadelphia.

He was promoted to major on 10 June 1864 and served at Philadelphia until March 1865, when he was ordered to command the Marine Barracks at Boston. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 5 December 1867 and remained in command at Boston until June 1871, when he was ordered to assume command of the Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., and to superintend recruiting. He had a short tour of duty in New York, attending to the organization of the recruiting service there, and returned to Washington in November 1872.

He was appointed Colonel Commandant of the Marine Corps on 1 November 1876. During his tenure of office the Marines participated actively in the quelling of the labor riots which had paralyzed business in nine states and which led to wholesale arson and murder; in the protection of life and property in Panama in 1885 when the country was in the throes of a revolt against Colombia; and performed similar service in Valparaiso, Chile. Marines also distinguished themselves by suppressing seal poaching in the Bering Sea.

In 1880, he assigned one of the Corps' most famous officers--John Philip Sousa--to serve as leader of the Marine Corps Band. Also his tenure as Commandant was distinguished by improved administrative practices, higher enlistment standards, better training, obtaining a quota of Marine officers from the Naval Academy, better officer selection and instruction, enforcement of uniform regulations, standard tables of organization, and regularization of staff and command procedures. It was under Colonel Commandant McCawley that both the typewriter and the telephone were introduced into the Corps.

Colonel McCawley retired from active service at the age of 64 on 29 January 1891. In ill health at the time of his retirement, he returned to his home in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. He died there in October 1891, and was buried in the Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Abington, Pennsylvania. 

Commandants of the Marine Corps