The 15th Infantry Regiment - Can Do History

The Fifteenth Infantry Regiment Lineage and Historical Narrative

Please send comments, additional information, and corrections to pr_abbey@hotmail.com.
First uploaded March 19, 1999 - Revised June 15, 1999 and March 26, 2005.
Copywrite 1999 by Philip R. Abbey - Permission to use for educational purposes granted provided credit is given and copywrite
holder notified by email of intended use and user. Photo credits as noted.


OVERVIEW
EARLY 15TH INFANTRY REGIMENTS
THE CURRENT 15TH INFANTRY
Born into Civil War - (1861 - 1869)
Western Service - (1869 - 1898)
Cuba and New England - (1898 - 1900)
China Relief Expedition & Philippine Insurrection - (1900 - 1902)
Interlude in Monterey - (1902 - 1905)
Return to the Philippines - ( 1905 - 1907)
Interlude in Utah - (1907 - 1911)
China Service - The Can Do's - (1911 - 1938)
Prelude to War  - (1938 - 1941)
World War II - (1941 - 1945)
Peacetime and Korea - (1945 - 1954)
Keeping the Peace during a Cold War - (1954 - 1990)
Brush Fires and Burning Sand - (1990 - Present)
COAT OF ARMS AND DISTINCTIVE UNIT INSIGNIA
BATTLE HONORS
DECORATIONS
CONCLUSION
PHOTOS, CREDITS & LINKS

LINKS

<>Booklist
15th Infantry Association
China Marines as POWs 1941-1945
Old Tientsin - Modern Tianjin
Treaty Ports - 1920-1921
U.S. Navy's Yangtze Patrol - 1854-1941
Tales of Old China



OVERVIEW

The U.S. Army's Fifteenth Infantry Regiment fills a unique niche in the Army's history. Between the two World Wars it was the only U.S. Army regiment permanently posted outside United States territory.1 In 1900 the 15th Infantry participated in the first campaign abroad where American troops cooperated with the forces of other nations (China Relief Expedition) and it has spent most of this century stationed abroad either in Asia or Europe. Both in China and in Europe its presence has served to deter aggression. Having the willingness and means to fight to restore peace often prevents the need to fight at all. The U.S. Army's Fifteenth Infantry Regiment continues to be the Can Do Regiment.

EARLY 15TH INFANTRY REGIMENTS

There have been four incarnations of the United States Army's Fifteenth Infantry Regiment since 1798. The first three were organized for short-term service in the Quasi War with France (1798-1800), The War of 1812 (1812-1815), and the Mexican War (1847-1848). They have no historical connection with the present 15th Infantry. All the honors and campaign credits of these earlier formations belong to other organizations or lapsed with the disbanding of the earlier formations. The current 15th Infantry has history and honors more than sufficient for itself.

The first 15th Infantry was organized on 16 July 1798 in response to the undeclared quasi war then being fought with France. Most of the action took place at sea leaving the Army little affected. This first incarnation of the 15th Infantry Regiment was disbanded after the emergency was over in 1800.

The second 15th Infantry was organized in 1812 for service on the northern border with Canada. The regiment fought in the capture of Toronto and Fort George in April and May 1813, and covered the retreat of militia troops from Fort George in December 1813. It was during this retreat that the 15th earned a reputation for not losing a single man through capture, despite receiving heavy casualties. The 15th fought in the Champlain Valley campaign in the autumn of 1814 and participated in General Dearborn's offensive in Ontario in October 1814 as well as in many other smaller battles. The regiment vanished in the Army's massive post-war reorganization of 1815. This reorganization saw wholesale consolidation of units with no thought to preserving cohesion or continuity.

The third 15th Infantry was organized for the duration of the Mexican War on 11 February 1847. As companies of the 15th arrived in Vera Cruz, they joined the provisional Third Division under General Winfield Scott and advanced on Mexico City. The regiment fought with distinction in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco, as well as smaller engagements, before storming the walls of Chapultepec in Mexico City itself. Following post-war garrison duty in Mexico City and Cuernevaca, the regiment returned to the U.S. and was disbanded in August 1848.

Civil War Campaign Streamer

THE CURRENT 15TH INFANTRY

Born into Civil War -

The fourth and current 15th Infantry was constituted on 3 May 1861 at Newport Barracks, Kentucky. Before the end of the Civil War, the regiment fought 22 major engagements, including Chattanooga, Chickamauga, Murfreesborough, and Atlanta. The crest of the regiment's coat of arms includes an acorn, the symbol of General Thomas' XIV Corps and the mountain of stone to symbolize the Corps' firm stand as the Rock of Chickamauga. The four acorns on the shield represent the four major engagements of this Civil War service.

Following the Civil War, the 15th Infantry served on occupation duty in Alabama until 1869. On 12 August 1869 the 15th was consolidated with the 35th Infantry and the combined units designated the 15th Infantry. The 35th Infantry had been constituted 3 May 1861 as the 3rd Battalion, 17th Infantry but not activated. The unit was organized and activated 29 October 1865 at Hart Island, New York. It was reorganized and redesignated the 35th Infantry 21 September 1866. The 1869 reorganization saw a large number of consolidations among the infantry regiments as the army adjusted to post Civil War national economics and the end of occupation duties in the southern states.

Indian Wars Campaign Streamer

Western Service -

Following the termination of its occupation duties in 1869 the regiment was deployed to the West, serving in Missouri, New Mexico, Dakota Territory, and Colorado. The 15th participated in the campaigns against the Ute Indians of Colorado and Utah, and against the Mescalero Apaches in New Mexico and Arizona before relocating to Fort Sheridan, Wyoming in January 1891.

Spanish-American War Campaign Streamer

Cuba and New England -

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the regiment moved to Huntsville, Alabama on 12 October 1898 for intensive training. It sailed from Savannah, Georgia on 27 November 1898 for Nuevitas, Cuba, for occupation duty following the close of hostilities. On 5 October 1899, the regiment sailed for the United States to be stationed at several small posts in upper New York and Vermont.

China Relief Expedition Campaign Streamer

China Relief Expedition & Philippine Insurrection -

On 16 August 1900 most of the regiment arrived in Tientsin (now Tianjin), China, to perform security duties as part of the China Relief Expedition in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion. The 3rd Battalion was ordered to Manila in September 1900 to assist in suppressing the Philippine War for Independence, a.k.a. the Aquinaldo or Philippine Insurrection. By April 1902, the balance of the regiment joined the 3rd Battalion in the Philippines and saw considerable action against the insurrectos, Filipino nationalists, on Luzon.

Interlude in Monterey -

In September 1902, the regiment was relieved and sailed for Monterey, California after three years of foreign service. While stationed at Monterey members of the regiment doubled as engineers and built much of the current Presidio of Monterey.

Return to the Philippines -

In 1905, the regiment was again posted for two years to the Philippine Islands. This mostly peaceful tour in the Philippines saw minimal action against bandits and the few remaining insurrectos.

Interlude in Utah -

When the 15th returned to the U.S. in 1907, it was assigned to garrison service at Fort Douglas, Utah.

China Service - The Can Do's - 1911 to 1938

On October 10, 1911 an explosion in the Russian Concession at Hankow (now part of Wuhan), China sparked off the Chinese Revolution against the Qing (Manchu or C'hing) Dynasty. In November 1911, the 15th Infantry's 2nd Battalion departed for Tientsin, China. In China it joined the international peacekeeping forces assigned to protect American and other foreign nations' interests. The battalion arrived in December 1911 with the 3rd Battalion and regimental headquarters following in early 1912. The 1st Battalion was retained in the Philippines and not posted to China.

During the interminable revolutions, rebellions and civil wars following the 1911 Revolution in China the regiment performed its mission of protecting Tientsin from encroachment by marauding bandits and disaffected soldiery with skill and honor. During one incident in 1924-25 regimental elements were posted on the perimeter of Tientsin as part of the international forces protecting the city. Chinese soldiers fleeing from defeats by other Chinese warlord armies were disarmed and set to collection centers. Pursuing victorious units, including mercenary White Russians were diverted and not allowed into the City. Following the termination of Germany's treaty rights in China in April 1917 the American forces posted in Tientsin took over the former German barracks.
 
 

15th Infantry Field Inspection - Tientsin, China
Field Inspection - Tientsin, China
-Morch
15th Infantry Hospital - Tientsin, China
15th Infantry Hospital - Tientsin, China
-Morch

Much of the 15th Infantry's tradition and its motto derive from the 26 years in China. The dragon on the shield of regimental coat of arms and pidgin English motto Can Do symbolize the China service. During most of this time in China the 1st Battalion was inactive having been posted to the Philippines and inactivated there in 1929 rather than joining the 2nd and 3rd Battalions in China. Given the normal inertia the remaining companies were not reorganized until after the regiment arrived at Ft. Lewis, Washington on March 24, 1938. The regiment simply functioned as a two battalion regiment without its 1st Battalion until 1940.

For administrative purposes the regiment was assigned to the Philippine Division (12th Infantry Division) on 17 July 1922 . This paper assignment was short lived however. On 1 April 1923 the regiment, except the 1st Battalion, was relieved from assignment to the Philippine Division and assigned to American Forces in China (later designated as the U.S. Army Troops in China). The 1st Battalion in the Philippines had no real connection with the larger part of the regiment serving in China and was inactivated at Fort William McKinley, Philippine Islands, on 1 April 1929. Administratively the 1st Battalion was relieved from the Philippine Division 26 June 1931.

During much of this time the 15th served as the core element of U.S. Army Troops in China, which included the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the regiment and units from the Medical, Signal and Quartermaster Corps as well as other support elements. The entire organization functioned as a self-contained balanced combat formation much like the regimental combat teams of Word War II and Korean War service. Overall strength of U.S. Army Troops in China, of which the 15th was the major component, was approximately 1,000 during most of this assignment in China. During the crisis of 1926-1927 the 15th was reinforced for several months by a brigade of U.S. Marines.
 


Regimental Band on the parade 
ground, 1927 - NARA
American Barracks
Tientsin, China

15th Inf. Mounted Co., Tientsin
1927 - NARA

Service with the 15th Infantry was unique. Chinese staff performed nearly all fatigue duties. Food was excellent. Compared with Prohibition Era America liquid refreshments were cheap and plentiful. Marching Out uniforms were tailor made and of a unique, rolled collar, design with white shirts. During the summer each of the battalions took turn rotating through a 4-6 week summer camp on the beach near Chinwangtao. This location provided space for field problems, target shooting and an opportunity to visit the Great Wall.
 


15th on Parade, Tientsin, 
1927 - NARA

15th on Parade in front of former
German Barracks, 1927 - NARA

15th Inf. Service Co., Tientsin,
1927. The tower is a water
tank serving the barracks - NARA

The 15th worked in close cooperation with British, French, Japanese and Italian forces also stationed at Tientsin and other points along the Chingwantao-Tientsin-Peking railway axis under the provisions of the  1901 Boxer Protocol. Its primary mission was providing security for the route between Tientsin and the foreign legations in Peking. The U.S. Marine Corps maintained a Legation Guard in Peking from 1905 until 8 December 1941. Until World War II threatened this unit had an average strength of approximately 500 Marines including a mounted section. The 4th Marines, another two battalion regiment, was stationed at Shanghai from March 1927 until November 28, 1941. There was a healthy competition on the sports fields among the other American and foreign units stationed in China.
 
 


American Barracks - Tientsin, China
- Morch

Regimental Band - Tientsin, China
- Morch

Beginning in the late 1920s, successive regimental commanders recommended to the War and State Departments that the regiment be withdrawn. The position was exposed, the location isolated and difficult from a logistics and training perspective and the overall mission archaic and increasingly compromised by the actions of Japan. Following the Marco Polo Bridge incident on June 7-8, 1937 Japanese forces attacked and rolled over Chinese forces in North China and occupied Tientsin by the end on July 30th. The presence of large numbers of Japanese troops in an active war zone compromised the neutrality of American forces and effectively terminated the regiment's security mission.

Prelude to War  -

In late February 1938 a detachment of approximately 50 U.S. Marines from the Legation Guard at Peking took responsibility for the American Barracks in Tientsin. The 15th Infantry Regiment was relieved from the U.S. Army Troops in China and departed China for Fort Lewis, Washington, on 2 March 1938. This ended a 26 year overseas tour unmatched for duration until the Cold War following World War II.

The wisdom of withdrawing the 15th Infantry from China was borne out a few years later. On December 8, 1941 the small detachments of the Marine's Legation Guard in North China stationed at Peking, Chinwangtao, and Tientsin surrendered to Japanese forces and became POWs for the duration of World War II.

On 12 January 1939 the regiment was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division (3ID). For the next two years, the 15th trained as the Army's only experimental ski unit. It also received training in amphibious assault landings on the Pacific Coast. The 1st Battalion was organized and activated at Ft. Lewis, Washington on 23 May 1940 and the regiment brought up to approximately full strength.

American Theater Campaing Streamer

World War II -

After Pearl Harbor, the 15th and 3ID served as security for the northwest while conducting advanced amphibious assault training until October 1942. During that month, the 15th Infantry, along with other divisional units, moved to Virginia and prepared for deployment to Europe.

On 8 November 1942, the 15th landed at Fedela, Morocco, and participated in the capture of Casablanca against strong Vichy French resistance on 11 November. The regiment remained on duty in Morocco until March 1943, serving with other divisional units as the honor guard for President Roosevelt during the Casablanca Conference. In March 1943, the 15th moved to Tunisia, where it trained for further amphibious operations until July.

The 15th was part of the 3ID's Task Force Joss in the invasion of Sicily on July 1943. The regiment fought with distinction at Palermo, Messina, and elsewhere in the Sicilian Campaign. At the close of the campaign, the 3ID (including the 15th) conducted a month of training before crossing onto the Italian mainland in September.

African - European Theatre Campaign Streamer

The 3ID and the 15th fought on the Volturno River and farther north on the Italian peninsula, breaching the German Winter Line in November 1943. In January 1944, the 15th spearheaded the 3ID's landing at Anzio until March. It then participated in the capture of Rome in June 1944.

On 15 August, the 15th led the 3ID landings on Beach Yellow at St. Tropez, France. The 15th lead the divisional attacks north through the Rhone Valley and conducted the first military crossing of the Vosges Mountains. The 15th reached the Rhine on 26 November 1944. From December 1944 to February 1945, the 15th reduced the Colmar Pocket. The 15th    was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for the fighting in the pocket.

The regiment was part of the 3ID's advance into Germany in March 1945. The regiment broke through the Siegfried Line and captured Nuremberg in April 1945. The 15th remained with the 3ID on garrison duty in Germany until September 1946, when it deployed to Fort Benning, Georgia. At the end of World War II, the regiment had 16 recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, 1,633 killed, 5,812 wounded, 419 missing in action.

Korean War Campaign Streamer

Peacetime and Korea -

In 1950, the regiment, as part of the 3ID was alerted for deployment to Korea. The division was sent into action in North Korea where it served to protect the withdrawal of the 1st Marine Division from Chosin Reservoir. When the marines were completely evacuated, the 15th was the last unit of the 3ID to hold the perimeter at Hungnam, North Korea. The regiment then sailed from Hungnam to Pusan and moved north. For the next two years, the 15th fought in Korea, moving in and out of the line with other divisional units. Though the armistice was signed in 1953, the 3ID remained on duty in Korea until 1954. At the time of the truce, the 15th had seen action in eight major campaigns and added three more Medal of Honor recipients to its rolls.

Keeping the Peace during a Cold War -

On 3 December 1954, the regiment returned to Fort Benning. In 1957, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, organized as Battle Groups were assigned to Germany as part of the pentagonal 3ID where they played an integral part of the army's deterrence against Soviet aggression in Europe for the next 40 years. The 3rd and 4th Battalions, both active in the Army Reserve, were deactivated in December 1965 as part of a reorganization of the Army Reserve and National Guard.

During the military expansion in the 1980s, the 3rd Battalion was reactivated at Fort Stewart as part of the 24th Infantry Division, while the 4th Battalion was activated at Fort Knox as part of the 194th Separate Armor Brigade.

Southwest Asia/Desert Storm & Shield Campaign Streamer

Brush Fires and Burning Sand -

The 3rd Battalion participated in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm from 20 August 1990 to 22 March 1991. Parts of 3rd Battalion also deployed to Somalia in 1993 during Operation Restore and Continue Hope while one company from the battalion deployed to Haiti to support Operation Uphold Democracy. The 2nd Battalion deployed to Macedonia to deter Serb aggression while the 1st Battalion deployed to the region in 1995.

In 2003 the 1st Battalion participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On 16 February 1996, the 1st Battalion and 15th Infantry Regimental colors were returned to Fort Benning, Georgia. Currently, 1st Battalion at Ft. Benning and the 3rd Battalion at Fort Stewart are the only active Battalions of the 15th Infantry Regiment.

CONCLUSION -

The history of the current 15th Infantry is unique in that most of its service since 1900 has been abroad. The first deployment was to China for a short time, followed immediately by active service in the Philippines for two tours broken by a stint in the United States. Then, after a brief stint in Utah, back to China for 26 years from late in 1911 until early 1938. After a brief time in the United States, 1938-1942, it spent most of World War II in Europe and North Africa. World War II was followed by a short stint in the United States to be followed by the Korean War, and, after a three year break, nearly 40 years of service in Germany followed by intermittent active service across the seas. In short, approximately 80 of the past 100 years have seen the regiment's major elements abroad.



Footnotes:
1One can argue regarding the garrison in the Panama Canal Zone. Technically it was a military reservation and not U.S. territory. Other Army postings abroad were occupation troops in Germany until 1923, and expeditionary forces in Northern Russia until 1919 and Siberia until 1920. The 31st Infantry also made a four month deployment from the Philippines to Shanghai in 1932 to reinforce the 4th Marines. The Philippines were, of course, American territory.
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PHOTO CREDITS, REFERENCES & LINKS  -

The images marked "Morch" are scanned from postcards collected by Svend P. Morch during his time of service in Tientsin. Mr. Morch was an American soldier and radio telegraph operator attached to the 10th Service Company, U.S. Army Signal Corps at Tientsin, China from 1920 to 1922. The 10th Service Company supported the U.S. Army's 15th
Infantry Regiment. The images are provided with the kind permission of his son-in-law, Edgar C. Smith.

Images marked "NARA" are from the National Archives and Records Administration. The large linked images have photograph files numbers indicated.

Books and References:

Old China Hands. Charles G. Finney. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co, 1961. Greenwood Press. 1973.

China Yearbook 1919-20. Edited by H. T. Montague Bell and H. G. W. Woodhead. London: George Routledge &
Sons, Ltd. 1920.

China Yearbook 1921. Edited by H. G. W. Woodhead. Tientsin: Tientsin Press. 1922.

China Yearbook 1928. Edited by H. G. W. Woodhead. Tientsin: Tientsin Press. 1928.

U.S. Army Lineage Series, Infantry, Part I: Regular Army. John K. Mahon and Romana Danysh, Washington: Center for Military History. 1972.


Created by Phil Abbey. First uploaded March 29, 1999. Revised July 17, 1999 and March 26, 2005.
Comments to pr_abbey@hotmail.com
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