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The American 15th Infantry Regiment in China, 1912–1938 A Vignette in Social History1 In October 1932, Lieutenant William E. Carraway and his fiancée drove to Goldsboro, North Carolina, to ask her parents’consent to their wedding. The thirty-year-old West Pointer had met Mela Royall while serving as an ROTC instructor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Now his assignment was coming to an end and the two wanted to go to his next station as a married couple. Mr. Royall was not at home so Bill explained the situation to Mela’s mother. Mrs. Royall promptly responded: “Well, if Mela wants to go, she has my consent even if you are going to China.” Then, she asked where they were going and was shocked to learn that, indeed, they were going to China.2 Most Americans, then and later, probably shared Mrs. Royall’s unawareness that there was an Army unit stationed in China. Because of the dramatic sinking of the USS Panay in December 1937 and, years later, the novel and movie Sand Pebbles, more were and are aware of the American naval presence in Chinese waters. The fact that there was an American infantry regiment based at Tientsin (Tianjin) in North China for twenty-six years, while not lost to history, is certainly one of the lesser-known facts about the American involvement in the Far East. In 1900, American soldiers and marines participated in the international force which relieved the foreign settlements in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. Although the Americans withdrew their troops, the U.S. government, along with the other foreign powers, retained the right to station forces in North China to maintain open communications from Peking (Beijing) to the sea. With the turmoil resulting from the revolution of 1911 and the apparent threat to this link, the American government decided to send in troops in January Captain Charles L. Bolté (left) and Lieutenant James E. Moore in a parade of the 15th Infantry in Tientsin in the mid-1930s. Both later became four-star generals. (Photograph courtesy of the Bolté family.) The American 15th Infantry Regiment in China, 1912–1938   45 1912. A battalion of the 15th sailed from Manila on 12 January and arrived at the port of Chinwangtao (Qinhuangdao) six days later. Two months later, on 9 March, a second battalion and regimental headquarters left Manila for the six-day journey to China. This force of 1,292 officers and men took up positions along the vital railroad and shared responsibility for guarding it with the troops of several other nations.3 As the years passed, the force’s strength fluctuated, with most of the men staying in Tientsin and only a company at the city of Tongshan, eighty-five miles distant, which was the approximate midpoint on the railroad from Tientsin to Chinwangtao. The Tongshan garrison was discontinued in 1927. In 1914, two years after the 15th went to China, it numbered only 849 officers and men, although there was an upswing to 1,406 the next year. By the mid-1920s there were 899 (1926) and 936 (1928). In the regiment’s last years in China, its strength ranged from 664 at a low point in 1936 to the 806 who left in the spring of 1938. Throughout virtually all of this era, the number of officers was in the forties. In the last years, there were also six nurses.4 In 1928, the commanding general of American forces in China, Brigadier General Joseph C. Castner, compared the size of his force to those of the other foreign powers’garrisons. In two years, the army had added only 37 to their strength to make a total of 936 while the British had more than doubled their troops (1,000 to 2,622), the French had increased their 1,418 to 2,530, and the Japanese had gotten very serious indeed about their interest in North China as their force pyramided from 613 to 6,167. Meantime, the Italians had added only 96 men to bring their total force to 553. To be sure, the Americans maintained a closer balance with the Japanese than the mere figures of the 15th would indicate, since there was a large temporary reinforcement of marines (4,502) to provide the American ambassador with a total of 4,956 marines to cooperate with the 15th in case of trouble.5 During the twenty-six years the 15th spent in China, two...


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