Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Marines Marine MOH Holder Alexander Foley In the Boxer rebellion


The Story Of Sergeant Alexander Foley

It has always amazed me how common everyday citizens of Schuylkill County have played an important part in history. One man in particular is Alexander Foley a man who grew up in Lost Creek. Like most boys growing up in the small anthracite coal mining patch towns of the late nineteenth century Foley was the son of a coal miner, a breaker boy and coal miner himself. This is the story of 1st Sgt. Alexander J. Foley a Marine or as his fellow Marines called him “A Marine’s Marine,”.
Sgt. Foley’s story begins on February 19, 1866 in Heckschersville, Pa. A healthy son born to Edward and Catherine (McDonald) Foley. Early in his childhood Alex moved with his family to another coal mining patch town that of Lost Creek. Here Alex worked as a breaker boy and miner in and around the local collieries for about 12 years. On October 29, 1888 at the age of 22 Alex decided that he wanted something different than working in the coal mines. That same day he traveled to Philadelphia to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. He raised his right hand and enlisted for five years. In 1893 he was mustered out but once again enlisted for another five year hitch. So began his career in the Marines. Alex was rated, during his first enlistment, as having an “excellent character”. By the end of his second enlistment, Alex served for three years on sea duty, and served and saw combat with the Marine Battalion in Cuba in 1898 during the Spanish American War. During the summer of 1899, now corporal Foley, was with the Marine Battalion serving in the Philippines. He helped put down an uprising by Filipino Nationalists. Because of his conduct during the hot fighting at Luzon, he was promoted to Sergeant. In the summer of 1900, Sgt. Foley was stationed with the First Regiment of Marines at Cavite, Philippines. On June 14, 1900 Sgt. Foley, 100 enlisted men and six officers were put on board the U.S. S. Newark and sailed for Taku, China. They arrived 4 days later on June 18th, 1900.
At the end of the 19th century China was rife with anti-foreign sentiments. The Chinese people were deeply angered with foreign nations for trying to divide their country into different spheres of influence. Some Chinese wanted to accept Western ideas, while others felt strongly that they had to drive the foreigners out of their country. Included in the latter were a fanatical group of Chinese Nationalists known as the “Righteous Harmonious Fists”, or, as the Europeans called them, the “Boxers”. Their objective was to drive every foreign devil out of China and thus remove every realm of Western influence. In the beginning the Boxers committed sporadic murders, killing mostly missionaries and their families. They hated the missionaries for opposing their ancestor worship and their other ancient religious beliefs. In 1900 the Boxers assassinated the German Minister to China, Baron V Ketteler at Peking. They quickly moved against the different foreign legations stationed in Pekin. Fearing for their lives 200 men, women and children of the legations took refuge in the British Legation and a siege of over two months by the Boxers followed.
At the same time in the city of Tientsin, the international settlement was under siege from the Boxers. Tientsin was the major stronghold of the Boxer uprising. A coalition of nations formed a force to go to the aid of the besieged westerners in Tientsin. Over 5,000 troops, including soldiers from Russia, Great Britain, Germany, France, Japan, U.S. Marines and men of the 9th U.S. Infantry.
It was clear that the legations in Peking needed help. The Boxers had severed the railroads leading from Tientsin, Peking was cut off. On June 10th, 1900, a detachment, under the command of British Admiral Seymour and numbering 1,945 men, set out to cut its way through to the besieged legation in Peking. Included in this force was a small detachment of U.S. Marines. Within a week the column had made about 65 miles and was only 25 miles from Peking. Continually harried by red scarved Boxers and Chinese Imperial soldiers who just joined the Boxers, the relief force fought continually for sixteen days. Near starvation and badly cut up, the relief force was left with two options; complete annihilation or retreat back to Tientsin. The column turned back. From 18 to 22 June, the column marched back to Tientsin, with over 200 wounded men the force became bogged down. In a last ditch effort the U.S. Marines and Royal Marines, supported by German soldiers, fought their way to a point about 6 miles from Tientsin. Of the 112 U.S. Marines included in this multi national force thirty-two were killed or wounded. The Marines sustained twice as many casualties as any other unit in the force. On June 21, 1900 in fierce fighting outside the International Compound at Tientsin, Sergeant Foley distinguished himself for fighting bravely. He eventually received a personal citation from the Secretary of the Navy, John D. Long for his actions on this date. The citation read:” The Department highly commends your meritorious conduct, which so well upheld the traditions of the United States Naval Service.” Sergeant Foley had the honor of hearing this citation read before his regiment on Sept. 9, 1901 at Cavite, P.I.
On June 22, 1900 the Boxers were well entrenched on the outskirts of Tientsin. The city was surrounded by a high mud wall 20 miles in circumference. The objective of the coalition was to capture the city, and then move on to Peking and the relief of the British legation held there. The Boxers were dug in and determined to die to the last man.
Late in the day of July 11, a large naval bombardment commenced from the warships at Taku, The bombardment lasted for a day and a half. In the early morning of the 13th the collation forces began their attack. The Japanese were assigned the center of the line, British on the left with the 9th U.S. Infantry 1st Marines and the French on the right when the assault began. The 9th U.S. Infantry was advancing over a low mud wall when they came under intense enemy fire. They were on an open field and exposed to heavy fire. The field was very muddy because the Chinese flooded the area. They were trapped in the open unable to advance or fall back and had no option but to try and dig in to protect themselves.
While the 9th Infantry was fighting for its life, Foley and the 1st Marines were advancing toward the south gate of the city. The Marines charged the area and themselves became pinned down. Both the Marines and 9th Infantry were taking heavy casualties all day long. In the dimming twilight, the survivors of both units made their escape to safety but had to leave many wounded behind. In the early evening, Sergeants Alexander Foley, P.S. Burch, Corporal H.E. Swift and Private William Hanrahan all members of Company F, 1st Marines went out on a search of the area for wounded comrades. They came upon a badly wounded Major James Regan of the 9th Infantry.
Major Regan stated about the action that night, “ Our position was a serious one and we were subjected to a hot fire all day. Our comrades at the outer, or mud wall, could not relieve or support us, but at the close of the day, under the protection of darkness our Marines and British Marines came on the field under fire to assist in removing the wounded from the field, and bravely did they continue their work until the last man was carried to a place of safety.
“It was with the greatest difficulty and persistence in their noble work that they got me off the field. They placed me on an improvised litter made of two flannel shirts and two rifles, the men at the suggestion of the surgeon shedding their shirts for the purpose.
“I was a heavy man and with the greatest of care over the roughest kind of ground, under fire, they carried me to a Marine Hospital in the city, a distance, I judge of about three miles.”
Sergeant Foley was mentioned in the after action report for this day by his Company Co. Captain Fuller. He was commended for carrying of messages on this day.
After Tientsin fell, the back of the Boxer resistance was broken when the coalition advanced on Peking. After a brief battle and very little resistance from the Chinese, the city fell. Sergeant Foley marched into the city with the 1st Marine Regiment and secured the survivors of the British Legation.
In October Sergeant Foley and his company F were assigned to the 2nd Marine regiment and sent back to Cavite, Philippines on September 9th , Foley received his letter of Commendation for actions on June 21st at Tientsin.
Almost a year later a grateful Major Regan wrote a letter to the commander of the 1st Marine Regiment in Cavite Philippines.
Sir: “I have the honor to state that at the close of the day of the Battle of Tientsin, being completely helpless from my wounds, I was helped off the battlefield, while still under fire, by four United States Marines.
“I told these men at the time that if I knew their names, I would especially mention them to their commanding officer, to which they are fully entitled for their splendid and difficult conduct on the night of July 13. The names of these men are sergeants Alex. J. Foley, Sergeant P.S. Burch , Corporal H.E. Swift, and Private William Hanrahan, at present, officers of company F First Regiment of Marines.
“It is with pleasure and gratitude that I bring the conduct of these men to the attention of their commanding officer, with the hope that they may be suitably mentioned and rewarded.” On May 11th, 1902 at Cavite, Philippines while standing in front of his Regiment Sergeant Foley was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The Citation Reads:
In the presence of the enemy in the battle near Tientsin, China, 13 July 1900, Foley distinguished himself by meritorious conduct……Medal of Honor
From the United States Marine Corps Archives the following is written:
Outstanding acts of heroism and self sacrifice marked the conduct of U.S. Marines during the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the century. No Individual action however surpassed the gallantry of Sergeant Alexander Foley, U.S.M.C.
During the bitterest period of fighting, Sergeant Foley concerned himself with the number of American wounded, who lay helpless under direct enemy fire. With complete disregard for his own safety he organized and led a rescue squad to evacuate the fallen.
So conspicuous was his bravery that a U.S. Army Major whom he carried from the field stated: “This man is worthy of the distinction the Government can confer upon him.” And sergeant Foley was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor.
On August 1, 1902 Foley was promoted to Gunnery Sergeant. He reenlisted for the fourth time on December 3, 1903. From May 5, 1905 to July 10, 1906 GSgt. Foley served on board the U.S.S. Monadnock with the Marine detachment. On December, 2, 1908 GSgt. Foley enlisted for the fifth time. On April 1, 1908 he was transferred to the battleship Idaho and promoted to 1st Sgt on July 10th. After a tour of sea duty on the U.S.S. Idaho, 1st Sgt. Foley was transferred to garrison duty at Culbera, Puerto Rico.
Sergeant Foley returned home to his native Lost Creek for a last visit sometime in 1908 and according to a relative of his he was the picture of health.
Sadly on the 14th day of January 1910, 1st Sgt. Alexander J. Foley was stricken with a heart attack and died while on duty. Foley was only 44 years of age. The Marine’s Marine was gone. He was buried with full military honors at the base in Culbera, P.R.
1st Sgt. Foley’s decorations included the Medal of Honor, citation for exceptional bravery, Foreign Service campaign Medal; Philippines Campaign Medal, West Indies campaign Medal. Good Conduct Medal, two bars, Sharpshooters Medal.
“SEMPER FIDELS “1st Sergeant Alexander J. Foley, a Schuylkill County hero a Marine’s Marine.

J. Stuart Richards

1. The Saga of Sergeant Foley, Shenandoah Evening Herald, May 29, 1951. James F. Haas
2. The Old Corps , John C Bonnell , 20023. Role of the U.S. Marines Boxer Re

1 comment:

John Bonnell said...

Good Morning Stuart ---- I just discovered your fine story about Foley ------ I recommend you submit to Leatherneck Magazine. I showed them mine , but was too long. Yours may meet their criteria. Semper Fi John Bonnell