The American Battlefield Trust Conference this year was to have featured a tour of mine about the Marine Battalion at the First Battle of Manassas. It has been postponed until 2021. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of my research into the Marines of 1861. This is Part III of a three-part series.
The Marine battalion’s second-ranking officer, Brevet Major Jacob Zeilin, deserves a second and deeper look. He is one of the most significant officers in Marine Corps history.
Zeilin turned 55 five days before First Manassas. Born in Philadelphia, he studied at West Point from 1822 to 1825 before dropping out due to poor grades in math and chemistry. He took a commission as a Marine Corps lieutenant in 1831, serving until his retirement in 1876.
In his long service, Zeilin had five important highlights:
California. He commanded the Marine detachment aboard USS Congress, which was part of Robert Stockton’s expedition to capture California. He helped secure Los Angeles and San Diego, becoming commander of the latter city for a time.
Perry Expedition. Zeilin commanded the 150-strong Marine force assigned to Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s expedition to open Japan to the west. Perry’s fleet anchored in Tokyo Bay and on July 14, 1853, landed on the bay’s western shore near Yokohama. Perry wanted to impress with a show of drill and precision, and Zeilin assembled his Marines to do just that. Led by Zeilin, they accompanied Perry ashore and stood in impeccable uniforms and ranks behind Perry as the commodore delivered a message for the Japanese government. The appearance and discipline of Perry, Zeilin, and the Marines had the desired effect among the Japanese – they became the subjects of many paintings and drawings.
Civil War. In addition to his actions First Manassas, Zeilin (by then a full major) commanded the Marines assigned the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in 1863 and 1864. He participated in the attempt to take Charleston from the sea in 1863 under Rear Admiral Samuel DuPont.
Commandant. On June 10, 1864, Zeilin became the 7th Commandant of the Marine Corps with the rank of Colonel, his predecessor having died in office. In 1867 Zeilin was promoted to Brigadier General, the Marine Corps’ first non-brevet flag officer.
Eagle, Globe & Anchor. A year after becoming the Marine Corps’ first general, Zeilin appointed a board to design a universal emblem for the service. The board studied several options. Inspired by the Royal Marines’ crest, the members recommended a globe superimposed on a fouled anchor topped with an eagle. Zeilin approved it as the service’s new logo, which it has used ever since.
Zeilin retired on October 31, 1876 and died November 18, 1880. He is buried in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery. Often forgotten today, Zeilin left an important legacy in American military history.