Image of Archibald Henderson


Lifetime: 1783 - 1859 Passed: ≈ 165 years ago




United States

Archibald Henderson

Archibald Henderson was the longest-serving Commandant of the Marine Corps, serving from 1820 to 1859. His name is learned by all recruits at Marine recruit training (Boot Camp) as the "Grand old man of the Marine Corps," serving in the United States Marine Corps for over 52 years.

Born in Colchester, Fairfax County, Virginia, Henderson was one of six sons of successful merchant Alexander Henderson and Sarah (Sally) Moore. He was raised at the Henderson House in Dumfries, Virginia until he joined the Marine Corps at the age of 18.

Archibald Henderson was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 4 June 1806 and served aboard USS Constitution during his famous victories in the War of 1812. He participated in several shipboard engagements and was decorated for bravery. He was brevetted a major in 1814.

From 16 September 1818 to 2 March 1819, Henderson was the acting Commandant. On 17 October 1820, at age 37, Lt. Colonel Henderson was appointed the Commandant of the Marine Corps. He served for a little over 38 years, the longest of any officer to hold that position.

Henderson is credited with thwarting attempts by President Andrew Jackson to combine the Marine Corps with the Army in 1829. Instead, Congress passed the Act for the Better Organization of the Marine Corps in 1834, ensuring the Marines would remain part of the United States Department of the Navy. He was promoted to colonel the same year.

He went into the field as Commandant during the Indian campaigns in Florida and Georgia during 1836 and 1837, and was promoted brevet brigadier general in 1843 for his actions in these campaigns. Tradition says that he pinned a note to his door: "Gone to Florida to fight the Indians. Will be back when the war is over."

Marines also served in the Mexican–American War during Henderson's tenure as Commandant. The sword presented to him at the war's end was inscribed, "From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli", giving the opening words to the Marines' Hymn.

Archibald Henderson died suddenly on 6 January 1859. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery. According to Marine lore, the Colonel Commandant had attempted to will his home — actually government-provided quarters in which he had lived for 38 years — to his heirs, having forgotten that they were government owned.

Books by Archibald Henderson

Mark Twain Cover image

Mark Twain


Many writers have penned studies of Mark Twain's life and work through the years. Twain authorized this biography, having met and hosted the writer, Archibald Henderson, on a few occasions. Henderson considered this work to be an homage to one of his...