Posted by: The staff | January 18, 2013

US Marines Attack Fredericksburg – 1918


From Eric Mink:

The following is based upon material that I stumbled upon while researching the 1921 United States Marine Corps maneuvers on the Wilderness Battlefield. In my discussions of this event with colleagues and local historians, I was surprised that no one had heard of this event. A very obscure and unknown bit of Fredericksburg military history is worthy of a post. 

“Marines Take Fredericksburg” is how The Richmond-Times Dispatch of June 4, 1918 described the descent of nearly 1,000 United States Marines upon the small town of Fredericksburg, Va. For two days, men of the 10th Marine Regiment of Field Artillery camped at the fairgrounds and on June 5 staged an elaborate sham battle that raged from the riverfront, through the streets of Fredericksurg and all the way to crest of Marye’s Heights. It was an extremely unusual event and spectacle that impressed and fascinated the residents of the city, but has since passed from local memory.

On June 3, 1918, the 10th Marine Regiment, led by Lieutenant Colonel Charles S. “Jumbo” Hill, left its home at the Marine Corps Barracks at

As a lieutenant colonel, Charles S. “Jumbo” Hill oversaw the 1918 Marine Corps exercises in Fredericksburg. He eventually rose to the rank of colonel and command of the 4th Marine Regiment. While stationed in China in 1927, Colonel Hill committed suicide.

As a lieutenant colonel, Charles S. “Jumbo” Hill oversaw the 1918 Marine Corps exercises in Fredericksburg. He eventually rose to the rank of colonel and command of the 4th Marine Regiment. While stationed in China in 1927, Colonel Hill committed suicide.

Quantico, Va. The barracks had opened the previous year with the expansion and rapid mobilization that followed the United States entry into World War I. Many Marines on their way to France passed through Quantico. The 10th Marine Regiment hoped for deployment to Europe and stepped up its preparedness, and the trip to Fredericksburg was undoubtedly part of its increased activity and training.

The Free Lance described the column that left Quantico as consisting of “800 men, 42 officers, 18 trucks, 10 rolling kitchens, 2 ambulances, and 16 horses.” Missing from this list were the large guns, the artillery that the men also brought with them. The first day consisted of a twenty-mile march, bringing the column to Garrisonville, where it camped for the night. The following day the Marines made for Fredericksburg, stopping for their noon meal on the farm of Judge Richard H.L. Chichester, near Falmouth. The column entered Fredericksburg with the men crossing the river by the Falmouth Bridge, while the vehicles crossed on the Free Bridge (today Chatham Bridge). Tents were erected at the fairgrounds, and after the men consumed their supper they were given their liberty. Many visited the city before returning to camp by 10 p.m.

The plan for June 5 called for a sham battle to be fought amongst the

Lieutenant Colonel Richard S. Hooker commanded the aggressors during the Fredericksburg sham battle. Like Hill, Hooker achieved the rank of colonel and command of the 4th Marine Regiment in China. Also like Hill, he died at that post in 1932.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard S. Hooker commanded the aggressors during the Fredericksburg sham battle. Like Hill, Hooker achieved the rank of colonel and command of the 4th Marine Regiment in China. Also like Hill, he died at that post in 1932.

Marines. At 9:45 a.m., the regiment marched into town. Lieutenant Colonel Richard S. Hooker took two-thirds of the command across the river and up onto Stafford Heights. Captain Samuel P. Budd established the smaller contingent in the town. Budd’s Marines erected a barricade of boards, timbers and other material at the end of Free Bridge. Outposts were placed in town, while the bulk of Budd’s force took up a position on Marye’s Heights. According to The Washington Post:

“Camouflaged gun emplacements of the type used in France were constructed on Stafford Heights behind a series of ridges. Civil War maps were used. Two rounds for each gun were allowed for the registration process, and then the battle was ‘on,’ each gun taking up the fire independently on a pre-arranged schedule.”The Washington Post, June 6, 1918

With bayonets fixed, Hooker’s Marines rushed down to the Free Bridge, tore through the barricade and forced their way across the river. They

The Free Bridge as it may have appeared in 1918. The sham battle began with a fight for control of the bridge.

The Free Bridge as it may have appeared in 1918. The sham battle began with a fight for control of the bridge.

scattered Budd’s outposts in town, chasing them up Amelia, Commerce (today William), George and Hanover Streets. The local paper noted that while some residents ventured out on the street to watch the excitement, “many did not tarry long, for the sight of the business-like Springfields belching smoke and flame, to say nothing of the gleaming bayonets, was calculated to make one feel safe in the house.” The officers, on horseback, urged the men forward, or backward, as the clash spilled out into the fields west of town. Wire fences that enclosed the fields and backyards provided a similar obstacle to the barbed wire entanglements used in France. In the long grass of the meadows between Hanover and Commerce (William) Streets, the khaki of the Marines’ uniforms offered excellent camouflage, while the old railroad embankment afforded the attackers excellent cover from which to fire on their retreating opponents. Captain Budd’s defenders withdrew to their positions atop Marye’s Heights, extending from Brompton to the campus of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women (today the University of Mary Washington). The sham battle lasted a little over an hour, and once it concluded the Marines marched back to the fair grounds for their noon meal.

The local newspaper crowed about the excitement and spectacle the battle created with onlookers coming into town from the surrounding counties to watch. The local Civil War veterans, the paper felt, were the most entranced by the show:

“There were no spectators more interested than the veterans of ’61-’65, who looked on in silent amazement at the great changes that have taken place in methods of warfare since the days when they defended the city.”The Free Lance, June 6, 1918

The sham battle, the paper thought, provided some sense of what American soldiers in France must have been experiencing.

“The fighting was so real that any spectator could have easily imagined himself at Chantilly [Cantigny], ‘over there,’ when that city was stormed and captured last month by the brave Sammies from America.”The Free Lance, June 6, 1918

The afternoon activities involved a parade through town. Residents closed their stores, decorated their homes with flags and bunting and lined the streets to watch and cheer the procession. “The city took on a holiday appearance,” the local paper reported. In the evening, the town provided refreshments and entertainment for the enlisted men, while the officers enjoyed a reception at the Princess Anne Hotel. A dance concluded the day’s activities. The following morning, June 6, the Marines commenced their march back to Quantico.

The purpose of the 1918 “battle” of Fredericksburg was a training exercise for the 10th Marine Regiment. It remains unknown why and how Fredericksburg was chosen for the maneuvers. The 10th Marine Regiment hoped to get into the war, but those orders never arrived. Ironically, on June 6, 1918, the day the regiment departed from Fredericksburg, its brothers in the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, nearly 4,000 miles away in France, plunged into the wheat fields bordering Belleau Wood. German machine guns took a heavy toll, delivering more casualties to the Marine Corps in that single day than it had suffered up to that point in its entire history.

Douglas Hamilton Knox, Jr. as he appeared in 1915. While serving with the 6th Marine Regiment in France, Knox became the first Fredericksburg resident to fall in action during World War One.

Douglas Hamilton Knox, Jr. as he appeared in 1915. While serving with the 6th Marine Regiment in France, Knox became the first Fredericksburg resident to fall in action during World War One.

One of the Marines fighting in Belleau Wood was 20-year old Private Douglas Hamilton Knox, Jr. of Fredericksburg. Knox fell wounded there and on June 14 he arrived, unconscious, at the American Red Cross Hospital No. 1 in Paris. The following day, young Knox succumbed to his wounds, becoming the first Fredericksburg resident to die on one of the war’s battlefields. Knox would not be the last, as the names of seventeen Fredericksburg residents appear on the city’s World War I Roll of Honor.

Despite The Free Lance’s assertion that “The day was one long to be remembered by the people here, truly a red-letter day in the history of Fredericksburg,” the sham battle quickly faded into obscurity, overshadowed by the actual fighting in France. Three years later, the Marines returned to stage maneuvers on the Wilderness Battlefield, but that’s a post for another time.

Much thanks to the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center for the use of their photos.

Eric J. Mink

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Responses

  1. Thanks Eric! A great post.

  2. One question: what is the relationship, if any, between Lt. Col. Richard Hooker and Fighting Joe? What about Jumbo Hill? Any relation to AP or DH Hill? Thanks.

    • Jennifer – I do not believe there is a relationship, other than the same surnames, between the USMC colonels and the Civil War generals. Charles “Jumbo” HIll was born in 1867 in New Hampshire, while Richard Hooker hailed from California and was born in 1877 – Eric

      • Thanks!!

  3. What a great story. Thanks, Eric. I was particularly intrigued by the reference to use of the railway embankment. We are familiar with these battlefield features, but it is fascinating to get a glimpse into their use by other trained infantry.

  4. Excellent post! (And certainly has a special appeal to Civil War and WW I buffs like myself!)

  5. Priceless! Wonderful research, Eric.

  6. Reblogged this on Our Heritage: 12th Century & Beyond and commented:
    Widow Tapp, owner of the property now known from the infamous Civil War battle as the “Wilderness Battlefield,” is my 3rd paternal great grandmother.

  7. Wow – very interesting. My son went to University of Mary Washington there and we spent many days in the area.
    Regards,
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  8. Gun emplacements of the type used in France on Stafford Heights? I assume excavations, and how does that fit with the Federal positions?
    Nice post.


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