EDWIN N. MCCLELLAN, USMC (DECEASED)
Edwin North McClellan, the first Marine to head the Historical Section of Headquarters, Marine Corps, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 5 December 1881. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 18 June 1907 and assigned to the School of Application in Annapolis, Maryland. Although his training was interrupted by illness, he completed his indoctrination in time to join the USS Wisconsin as part of the Great White Fleet world cruise of 1908-09.
On Christmas Day 1909 he was assigned to duty at Marine Barracks, Norfolk, Virginia. After his promotion to first lieutenant on 25 May 1910, he joined the Marines en route to the Philippines. 1stLt McClellan arrived at Manila on 2 December 1910 and served there until being assigned to Peking, China, where he arrived on 1 August 1912. While in China he served as an early commanding officer of the famous Mounted Detachment at Peking from 18 December 1912 to 9 July 1913.
First Lieutenant McClellan returned stateside to Mare Island, California, and within a few weeks, was ordered to Washington D.C. where he was assigned to the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office, reporting on 14 November 1913. 1stLt McClellan’s writing career seems to have begun during his JAG assignment as he prepared the Index-Digest of Court-Martial Orders for the years 1914, 1915, and 1916, as well as the “Naval Digest, 1916.” His office work was combined with study at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., which led to a law degree in 1916.
Promoted to captain on 29 August 1916, he was reassigned to sea duty on 9 February 1917, this time on the USS Arizona, where he was in command of the Marine Detachment. Capt McClellan was promoted to major (temporary) while still on the Arizona on 22 May 1917 and assigned as Force Marine Officer, Battleship Force No. 1, Atlantic Fleet, and transferred to the USS Minnesota where he remained until almost the close of World War I, being detached to Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, on 14 October 1918.
With the close of the war in Europe, Maj McClellan was ordered to France on 28 February 1919 for duty with the Historical Section of the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.). He was specifically charged with “collecting historical data regarding activities of Marines during operations in Europe.”
Major McClellan returned to the U.S. from his tour with the Army Historical Branch on 17 August 1919 and joined Headquarters, Marine Corps three days later. On 8 September 1919 the Historical Section, Adjutant and Inspectors Department, Headquarters, USMC, was established by authority of Marine Corps Order No. 53. On the same day, Maj McClellan was ordered in charge. On 21 October 1921, Maj McClellan suggested to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, MajGen John A. Lejeune, that 10 November be designated as the birth date of the Marine Corps. He suggested the date be declared a Marine Corps holiday, with celebrations held throughout the Corps including a birthday dinner being held in Washington D.C., and that a General Order be issued on this subject. As a direct result of Maj McClellan’s suggestion, Marine Corps Order No. 47 (Series 1921) of 1 November 1921 was issued and later incorporated into the Marine Corps Manual.
Major McClellan served with the Marine Corps Historical Section until 31 May 1925. During his time with the section, his book, The United States Marine Corps in the World War, was published. He also had an unparalleled historical writing career on the history of the Marine Corps which led to more than 100 published articles, some being short “vignettes” while others were long detailed studies. In addition to his work in the Historical Section, he served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Marine Corps Association from 1 July 1921 to 1 October 1922, and edited five issues of the Marine Corps Gazette magazine.
After completing his first tour of duty with the Historical Section, Maj McClellan was detached on 1 June 1925 for duty at the Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. He was in Hawaii until 15 November 1927 when he returned to the Pacific coast. After a brief tour in the Western Recruiting Area, he was sent to join the 5thRegiment, 2d Brigade, Nicaragua, reporting 19 October 1928 as the official photographer.
Returning from Nicaragua on 24 July 1929, he had a brief tour at Quantico and shortly afterwards the Navy Register carried the new notation, “Graduate Marine Corps Schools, Field Officer’s Course.”
Major McClellan returned to Headquarters on 20 June 1930 to enter upon his second tour in charge of the Historical Section. On this assignment, he endeavored to meet the requirement of Order No. 53 of 8 September 1919 to revise and bring up to date the history of the Corps.
Concentrated labor on his part resulted in the production of chapter after chapter toward a complete history of the Corps. Approximately 22 chapters were completed during his first tour of duty in the 20s while nine chapters are credited to his second tour of duty in the 30s.
On 6 September 1932, an outline of a seven-volume history of the Corps was drafted, designed to carry through 1933. However, his second tour of duty was during the Great Depression and at that time formal publication was not economically feasible. He resorted to the mimeograph machine and 200 to 300 copies of each chapter were produced for judicious distribution. Some chapters were revised so that two versions exist. In 1954 the New York Public Library microfilmed the McClellan history, the closest to publication the work has achieved. As corollary to his chronological and topical histories Maj McClellan also wrote a small book entitled, Uniforms of the American Marines, 1775 to 1832, including the Uniform of the Colonial American Marines, 1740 – 1742, which was published in mimeographed form in 1932.
On 2 March 1933, Maj McClellan was reassigned to write a history of the Adjutant and Inspectors’ Department. This assignment was interspersed with trips to Philadelphia for historical research. Maj McClellan was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 1 March 1934 and was detached from his historical and writing duties on 15 June 1934 for a brief assignment in Haiti, returning to the Marine Barracks, Navy Yard, Philadelphia, on 15 August 1934.
Within a few months he was off to the Orient, being assigned to duty with the 4thMarines in Shanghai. But this assignment was of short duration as he was sent to Cavite, Philippine Islands, where he commanded the Marine Barracks at the Navy Yard. His active duty career came to a conclusion at Cavite with his retirement on 30 June 1936.
He returned briefly to Pennsylvania following retirement before moving to Honolulu. He once again returned to Philadelphia in 1941.
When The United States Marine Corps in the World War was reprinted in 1968, Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Leonard F. Chapman traveled to Philadelphia to present an autographed copy to LtCol McClellan at a ceremony held 10 December 1968 in his honor at the Philadelphia Naval Base. The Commandant, in speaking of McClellan’s history, said it “is still the essential starting point for any meaningful research into our past.”
Lieutenant Colonel McClellan died at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital on 25 July 1971.