United States Marine Corps
Commanding 1st Marine Battalion
Contributed by Robert Pendleton
Colonel Robert Watkinson Huntington commanded the First Marine Battalion (Reinforced) during the Spanish American War. The actions of the First Marine Battalion (Reinforced) helped to define the modern role of U.S. Marine Corps
Robert Watkinson Huntington was the first born son of Judge Samuel Howard Huntington and Sarah Blair (Watkinson) Huntington. His siblings were Samuel Huntington, Catherine Jane Huntington (Cole), and Sarah Blair Huntington.
Robert was born on December 2, 1840 in that part of Hartford, Connecticut which today is known as West Hartford. He entered Trinity College in the autumn of 1860 but left the college at the outset of the Civil War in order to enlist, on April 23, 1861, in Captain Joseph Roswell Hawley’s Company B, 1st Connecticut Volunteer Regiment. He later received his degree of A.B., causa tremoris, upon the graduation in 1864 of the Trinity class in which he entered.
While a member of the 1st Connecticut Volunteer Regiment, he applied for a commission in the United States Marine Corps and upon passing the required examination was commissioned second lieutenant of Marines on June 5, 1861. His first duty station was the Marine Barracks, Navy Yard, Washington, District of Columbia. Just prior to the first land battle of the Civil War at Bull Run, Manassas, Virginia, a battalion of four companies of Marines was organized at the Marine Barracks, Navy Yard, under the command of Major John G. Reynolds, U.S.M.C. The battalion would be attached to the U.S. Army’s First Brigade, led by Colonel Andrew Porter, Second Division, Brigadier General David Hunter, commanding.Second Lieutenant Robert W. Huntington was assigned as subaltern to Company B, Captain James H. Jones, commanding.
The first major land battle of the Civil War (known to the Union as First Bull Run and to the Confederates as First Manassas) was fought on Sunday, July 21, 1861, and resulted in a destructive defeat and rout of the Union forces. During the day of the battle, Judge Samuel Howard Huntington wrote to his wife the following anxious letters concerning their son:
The day of the battle:
“Washington July 21, 1861
My dear Wife,
I have just received your letter of the 19th & write a few lines before going to church that it may go in the next mail. I have not heard from Robert since Thursday -He was well and in good spirits - Colo. Harris did not go with the Corps - Major Reynolds commands it - He is an experienced and good officer - Capt. Jones (Robert’s Captain) I think well of as a man and an officer - He is not a cripple - though he is a little lame - When he left, his health generally feeble - The news from him [Lt. Huntington] as late as Thursday is that he was well - That is better than when he left - He is a man however that would under the circumstances, say he was well. The Corps however consists mostly of raw recruits & there are too many young and inexperienced officers - We can hope & pray that Robert will pass through the trial safely - He is I believe in the line of his duty & we must leave him in the hands of a good and wise Providence - He is about twenty five miles from here - I have been strongly tempted to go to him - But the parting from him on Tuesday was painful to me in the extreme & he saw it & doubtless felt it & I feel that it would be of no advantage to either of us to go there - Should there be a battle, as there doubtless will be I shall hasten to the scene as soon as it is over - there is a gentleman in the House here - (a fellow [judge] however) who has a son - a law student at Cambridge - in the same brigade as Robert -There are many rumors in town this morning - but I do not think they are reliable - It is said that Johnston has joined Bearegard (sic)[Beauregard] - & that large reinforcements have been made to the rebel army - If it is true Patterson must be near at hand with a still greater force. It is said too that reinforcements were sent from this City [Washington] last night - I think that General Scott is cautious, & he has great confidence in Genl. McDowell - I trust all will come out right - Colo Harris expects a messenger from the camp this evening - as soon as I get any news I will write to you by the next mail - or if necessary shall telegraph to you -
I called upon Mrs. Jones, Capt. Jones wife - yesterday - I had never seen her before - She was glad to see me - She is with Maj. Reynolds wife in the neighborhood of the barracks - …I shall write to Kate this evening [Catherine Huntington, sibling of Lt. Huntington] - Much love to the children from your affectionate husband
S. H. Huntington”
[Samuel Howard Huntington]
“21 July 1861The day after the battle:
My Dear Wife
The news through the day has been of a severe battle at Bull Run and beyond - There is no doubt but that the Union troops thus far have been victorious, but it seems to be allowed on all hands that the victory has been won by great loss of life on both sides - The firing has been heard through the day distinctly in this City.
I may go down to the field tomorrow morning - I cannot tell what I shall do - I have been to Church all day - the two first lessons seemed to me remarkable coincidences - I never listened to them with much feeling before - I shall telegraph to you as soon as I get anything definite. I received the enclosed letter from Robert this morning after I sent yours off - Preserve it, as it may be the last I shall ever secure from him -
S. H. Huntington”
[Samuel Howard Huntington]
“Washington July 22d ‘61
My Dear Wife
The defeat & rout of our troops has been total & most destructive.
Robert is safe - He was in a very severe part of the fight - I have just parted with him from the Barracks - where he had himself, & was trying to get some rest. He thinks about thirty of the Marines were killed [the actual Marine Corps casualties of the battle were 9 killed, 19 wounded, and 6 missing].
Hitchcock one of the young Lieutenants was instantly killed by a cannon ball [which severed his head] - Hale, another was wounded in the leg - Major Zelin [Jacob Zeilin] was wounded in the arm. I have only time to say that Robert is well as when he left. I am too much disturbed to write more now -
Let us thank a merciful God that our son, was [spared] through such destruction of human life.
S. H. Huntington”
[Samuel Howard Huntington]
Lieutenant Huntington survived the Battle of Bull Run, and subsequently served in the North Atlantic Blockading Fleet being commissioned first lieutenant on September 30, 1861.
Within a month, Major John G. Reynolds’ Marine Battalion was on its way to help in the capture of Port Royal, South Carolina. Lieutenant Huntington was with the battalion on board the transport steamer GOVERNOR when it was wrecked in a gale off Georgetown, South Carolina, on November 2, 1861. However, the battalion survived and was with the naval forces under the command of Rear Admiral Samuel F. DuPont at the capture of Port Royal, South Carolina, on November 7, 1861. On March 4, 1862 Lieutenant Huntington was again present with Reynolds’ expeditionary Marine battalion that landed from the transport McCLELLAN capturing Ft. Clinch and occupying the town of Fernandina, Florida.
Lieutenant Huntington was attached to the Marine Guard of the U.S.S. JAMESTOWN, from June 1862 to September 1865. While on the JAMESTOWN he was promoted to Captain on June 24, 1864. On November 6, 1865 at Norwich, Connecticut, Captain Robert W. Huntington, age 25, married Jane Lathrop Trumbull. She was 21 years of age, and the daughter of Daniel Lathrop Trumbull (of Revolutionary War fame) and Alexandrine Navarre (Wilson) Trumbull. Jane was born on September 9, 1844, at Norwich, Connecticut and died on March 9, 1869 at Charlestown, Boston, Massachusetts. Of that union two sons were born: Robert Watkinson Huntington, Jr., (later president of the Hartford Insurance Company at Hartford, Connecticut) and the Right Reverend Daniel Trumbull Huntington, Bishop of the Missionary Diocese of the Protestant Episcopal Church at Anking, China.
His second marriage was to Elizabeth Sherburne Whipple, on September 17, 1875 at Portsmouth, Rockingham County, New Hampshire. She was born on August 15, 1845 to Major General Amiel W. Whipple (West Point Class of 1841) and Ellen Mary (Sherburne) Whipple. General Whipple was killed at the Battle of Chancelorsville, Virginia, May 1-4, 1863. The sole issue of this union was their daughter, Eleanor Sherburne (Huntington) Wayland, born at Portsmouth, New Hampshire on July 13, 1883.
As captain of Marines, Huntington commanded the guard at the U.S. Legation in Yeddo, (later named Tokyo) Japan. From 1866 through 1898 he served on numerous sea tours and at various naval stations and posts in the United States and on expedition to the Isthmus of Panama in 1885. In 1889 he was commanding the Marine Guard on board the U.S.S. TRENTON when the ship was caught in the great hurricane of Apia, Samoa, 15-16 March 1889 and totally wrecked. He was promoted to the rank of major on September 30, 1889.
On February 20, 1897 he was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel and prior to the outbreak of the war with Spain he commanded the Marine Barracks, New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York. On April 22nd of 1898 he was reassigned to command the 1st Marine Battalion (Reinforced) for duty with Admiral Sampson’s North Atlantic Squadron. The battalion was in continuous action against Spanish forces at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from June 11 through June 14, 1898 concluding with the bay’s capture as a coaling and repair facility for the U.S. fleet.
At the conclusion of the war with Spain, the 1st Marine Battalion was ordered to Camp Heywood, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Seavey Island, Kittery, Maine. While at Camp Heywood, Lt. Colonel Huntington was promoted to full colonel, on August 10, 1898, by the President of the United States for eminent and conspicuous conduct in battle at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Colonel Commandant Charles Heywood issued orders to Colonel Huntington to disband the 1st Marine Battalion and on the morning of September 16, 1898 Colonel Huntington issued the order at Camp Heywood, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Seavy Island, Kittery, Maine. All battalion personnel were immediately ordered to return to their respective stations of origin. After bidding the battalion farewell, Colonel Huntington returned to command the Marine Barracks, New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York.
On January 10, 1900 Colonel Huntington was placed on the retired list having completed 38 years of active and distinguished service to the nation as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
On Saturday, November 17, 1917 Colonel Robert Watkinson Huntington
died at his residence at Charlottesville (University, Virginia) and was
interred at the Wayland family cemetery, Heards, Virginia. His second wife,
Elizabeth Sherburne (Whipple) Huntington died on March 13, 1922 and was
interred beside her husband. Their daughter, Eleanore Sherburne (Huntington)
Wayland, died April 15, 1943 and her husband Edwin Massey Wayland died
on December 25, 1957; all are interred at the Wayland family cemetery.
Personal Papers Collection of Colonel Robert Watkinson Huntington, United States Marine Corps (Retired), (PC#276), Marine Corps University Archives and Special Collections Branch, Gray Research Center, Quantico, Virginia.
The United States Marine Corps in the Civil War, David M. Sullivan, Vol. I , 1997. ISBN 1-52749-040-3.
1st Marine Battalion (Reinforced) ROSTER, Transcribed and compiled by Robert M. Pendleton, unpublished manuscript, 2005-6.
Field research and ground proofing of the Huntington graves interred at the Weyland Family Cemetery, Heards, Virginia, June 16, 2006, Robert M. Pendleton, Researcher.