United States Marine Corps History and Information

Learn about the Traditions and Customs of the USMC

Commandants of the U.S. Marine Corps

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List of Commandants of the US Marine Cops

Since its birth in 1775, the Marine Corps has been led by 35 different men.  The first of these Marine leaders, Samuel Nicholas, technically never held the title of Commandant.  His commission, signed by John Hancock, begins as follows:

The Commandant of the Marine Corps

Current Commandant of the USMC General James F. Amos

IN CONGRESS.  The Delegates of the United Colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode-Island, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Counties of New-Castle, Kent, and Suffex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina, and Georgia, to Samuel Nicholas Esquire.  We, reposing especial Trust and Confidence in your Patriotism, Valour, Conduct and Fidelity, Do by these Presents, constitute and appoint you to be Captain of Marines in the service of the Thirteen United Colonies of North-America, fitted out for the defense of American Liberty

The term “Commandant” did not come into use for over a quarter-century.  Notwithstanding technicalities, Samuel Nicholas is considered the first of the lineage, the first Commandant.  These 34 United States

Marine Corps leaders are listed below:

35. James F Amos– October 22, 2010 through Current
First United States Naval Aviator to serve as Commandant

34. James T. Conway– November 14,2006 through October 22, 2010
Commanded Marines forces in the Iraq War and oversaw expansion of the Corps to 202,000 personnel

33. Michael W. Hagee*
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State of Birth: VA
Dates: B. 1 Dec 1944
Period Served: 14 Jan 2003 – present
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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32. James L. Jones
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State of Birth: MO
Dates: B. 19 Dec 1943
Period Served: 1 Jul 1999 – 13 Jan 2003
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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31. Charles C. Krulak*
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State of Birth: VA
Dates: B. 4 Mar 1942
Period Served: 1 Jul 1995 – 30 Jun 1999
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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30. Carl E. Mundy Jr.
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State of Birth: GA
Dates: B. 16 Jul 1935
Period Served: 1 Jul 1991 – 30 Jun 1995
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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29. Alfred M. Gray, Jr.
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State of Birth: NJ
Dates: B. 22 Jun 1928
Period Served: 1 Jul 1987 – 30 Jun 1991
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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28. Paul X. Kelley
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State of Birth: MA
Dates: B. 11 Nov 1928
Period Served: 1 Jul 1983 – 30 Jun 1987
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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27. Robert H. Barrow
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State of Birth: LA
Dates: B. 5 Feb 1922
Period Served: 1 Jul 1979 – 30 Jun 1983
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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26. Louis H. Wilson
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State of Birth: MS
Dates: B. 11 Feb 1920
Period Served: 1 Jul 1975 – 30 Jun 1979
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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25. Robert E. Cushman, Jr.*
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State of Birth: MN
Dates: B. 24 Dec 1914 D. 2 Jan 1985
Period Served: 1 Jan 1972 – 30 Jun 1975
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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24. Leonard F. Chapman, Jr.
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State of Birth: FL
Dates: B. 3 Nov 1913 D. 6 Jan 2000
Period Served: 1 Jan 1968 – 31 Dec 1971
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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23. Wallace M. Greene, Jr.*
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State of Birth: VT
Dates: B. 27 Dec 1907 D. 10 Mar 2003
Period Served: 1 Jan 1964 – 31 Dec 1967
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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22. David M. Shoup
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State of Birth: IN
Dates: B. 30 Dec 1904 D. 13 Jan 1983
Period Served: 1 Jan 1960 – 31 Dec 1963
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
When Pate was due to be relieved, the President nominated Major General Shoup for a two-year term as he had done with General Pate. The Senate in confirming the nomination, however, invoked the four year provision of the 1913 law and fixed Shoup’s tenure as 1960-1964. (Hearing on H.R. 8189, 3 September 1959.)

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21. Randolph McCall Pate
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State of Birth: SC
Dates: B. 11 Feb 1898 D. 31 Jul 1961
Period Served: 1 Jan 1956 – 31 Dec 1959
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
The President in 1955 appointed Lieutenant General Pate to a two-year term as Commandant; in 1957, however, Pate’s tenure was renewed for another two years.

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20. Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr.
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State of Birth: VA
Dates: B. 10 Feb 1896 D. 6 Aug 1990
Period Served: 1 Jan 1952 – 31 Dec 1955
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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19. Clifton B. Cates
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State of Birth: TN
Dates: B. 31 Aug 1893 D. 4 Jun 1970
Period Served: 1 Jan 1948 – 31 Dec 1951
Initial Rank as CMC: General
Final Rank: General
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18. Alexander A. Vandegrift
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State of Birth: VA
Dates: B. 13 Mar 1887 D. 8 May 1973
Period Served: 1 Jan 1944 – 31 Dec 1947
Initial Rank as CMC: Lieutenant General
Final Rank: General
The Act of 21 March 1945 (59 Stat. 29) permitted the President to appoint the Commandant to the rank of general. When Vandegrift was promoted on 4 April 1945, to rank from 21 March of that year, he became the first Marine to serve in the rank of general. The Act of 21 March 1945 was restricted in effect to “six months after the termination of the war in which the United States is now engaged. . . ” Hostilities had not yet been officially terminated when, by the Act of 7 August 1947 (61 Stat. 880), the rank of Commandant was permanently fixed as general.

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17. Thomas Holcomb
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State of Birth: DE
Dates: B. 5 Aug 1879 D. 24 May 1965
Period Served: 1 Dec 1936 – 31 Dec 1943
Initial Rank as CMC: Major General
Final Rank: Lieutenant General
The Act of 20 January 1942 (56 Stat. 10) provided the rank of lieutenant general for the Commandant, and Holcomb was accordingly promoted to rank from that date. The same act provided that the office henceforth should be known as “Commandant of the Marine Corps.” Holcomb was advanced to general on the retired list effective 1 January 1944–the first Marine ever to hold that rank.

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16. John H. Russell, Jr.*
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State of Birth: CA
Dates: B. 14 Nov 1872 D. 6 Mar 1947
Period Served: 1 Mar 1934 – 30 Nov 1936
Initial Rank as CMC: Major General
Final Rank: Major General
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15. Ben H. Fuller*
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State of Birth: MI
Dates: B. 27 Feb 1870 D. 8 Jun 1937
Period Served: 9 Jul 1930 – 28 Feb 1934
Initial Rank as CMC: Major General
Final Rank: Major General
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14. Wendell Neville*
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State of Birth: VA
Dates: B. 12 May 1870 D. 8 Jul 1930
Period Served: 5 Mar 1929 – 8 Jul 1930
Initial Rank as CMC: Major General
Final Rank: Major General
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13. John A. Lejeune*
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State of Birth: LA
Dates: B. 10 Jan 1867 D. 20 Nov 1942
Period Served: 1 Jul 1920 – 4 Mar 1929
Initial Rank as CMC: Major General
Final Rank: Major General
Lejeune was the first Commandant reappointed after the expiration of a fixed term.

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12. George Barnett *
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State of Birth: WI
Dates: B. 9 Dec 1859 D. 27 Apr 1930
Period Served: 25 Feb 1914 – 30 Jun 1920
Initial Rank as CMC: Major General
Final Rank: Major General
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11. William Biddle
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State of Birth: PA
Dates: B. 15 Dec 1853 D. 25 Feb 1923
Period Served: 3 Feb 1911 – 24 Feb 1914
Initial Rank as CMC: Major General
Final Rank: Major General
From the time of Major General Elliott’s retirement until his own appointment, Biddle served as Acting Commandant in his personal rank of colonel, 1 December 1910 – 2 February 1911. During Biddle’s tenure, the term of Commandant was fixed for the first time at four years, “unless sooner relieved,” by the Act of 19 December 1913 (38 Stat.3).

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10. George Elliott
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State of Birth: AL
Dates: B. 30 Nov 1846 D. 4 Nov 1931
Period Served: 3 Oct 1903 – 30 Nov 1910
Initial Rank as CMC: Brigadier General
Final Rank: Major General
The Act of 13 May 1908 (35 Stat. 166) provided for the post of “major-general commandant, in lieu of the present brigadier-general commandant.” Accordingly, on May 1908, Elliott was promoted to major general.

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9. Charles Heywood
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State of Birth: ME
Dates: B. 3 Oct 1839 D. 26 Feb 1915
Period Served: 30 Jan 1891 – 2 Oct 1903
Initial Rank as CMC: Colonel
Final Rank: Major General
By the Act of 3 March 1899 (30 Stat. 413) the post of Commandant was again raised to that of brigadier general; Heywood was promoted as of that date. The Act of 1 July 1902 (32 Stat. 1368) accorded the Commandant the rank, pay, and allowances of a major general in the army. This act, however, specifically provided that should a vacancy occur in the office “on the expiration of the service of the present incumbent, by retirement or otherwise, the commandant of the Marine Corps shall thereafter have the rank, pay, and allowances of a brigadier-general.” Thus, Heywood’s final rank must be considered to have been personal in character.

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8. Charles McCawley
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State of Birth: PA
Dates: B. 29 Jan 1827 D. 13 Oct 1891
Period Served: 1 Nov 1876 – 29 Jan 1891
Initial Rank as CMC: Colonel
Final Rank: Colonel
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7. Jacob Zeilin
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State of Birth: PA
Dates: B. 16 Jul 1806 D. 18 Nov 1880
Period Served: 10 Jun 1864 – 31 Oct 1876
Initial Rank as CMC: Colonel
Final Rank: Brigadier General
The Act of March 1867 (14 Stat. 174) provided that “the commandant of the Marine corps shall have the rank and pay of a brigadier general of the army.” This law was repealed by the Act of 6 June 1874 (18 Stat. 216) when the office of Commandant was returned to the rank of colonel when and if a vacancy occurred. Thus, Zeilin retained his rank of brigadier general but his successor was slated to be a colonel.

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6. John Harris
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State of Birth: PA
Dates: B. 20 May 1790 D. 12 May 1864
Period Served: 7 Jan 1859 – 12 May 1864
Initial Rank as CMC: Colonel
Final Rank: Colonel
Between the death of Harris and the appointment of Zeilin, Major Augustus S. Nicholson, the Adjutant and Inspector, served as Acting Commandant from 13 May – 9 June 1864.

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5. Archibald Henderson
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State of Birth: VA
Dates: B. 21 Jan 1783 D. 6 Jan 1859
Period Served: 17 Oct 1820 – 6 Jan 1859
Initial Rank as CMC: Lieutenant Colonel
Final Rank: Colonel
By authority of the Act of 30 June 1834 (4 Stat. 32) the rank of Commandant was raised to colonel. On 4 March 1843, Henderson was commissioned brigadier general by brevet for his services during the Florida Indian Wars. Subsequently, he was commonly referred to as Brevet Brigadier General Henderson. This was a personal rank in the nature of a decoration for gallantry. It had nothing to do with the office of the Commandant – less, in fact, than the personal rank held by Heywood. In this connection, it should be noted that, in official correspondence, Henderson usually signed himself “Col. Commdt”.

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4. Anthony Gale
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State of Birth: Ireland
Dates: B. 17 Sep 1782 D. 1843
Period Served: 3 Mar 1819 – 16 Oct 1820
Initial Rank as CMC: Lieutenant Colonel
Final Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
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3. Franklin Wharton
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State of Birth: PA
Dates: B. 23 July 1767 D. 1 Sep 1818
Period Served: 6 Mar 1804 – 1 Sep 1818
Initial Rank as CMC: Lieutenant Colonel
Final Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Between Wharton’s death and Gale’s appointment, Brevet Major Samuel Miller, the Adjutant and Inspector and Brevet Major Archibald Henderson served as Acting Commandant, 2-15 September 1818 and 16 September 1818 – 2 March 1819, respectively.

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2. William Ward Burrows
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State of Birth: SC
Dates: B. 16 Jan 1758 D. 6 Mar 1805
Period Served: 12 Jul 1798 – 6 Mar 1804
Initial Rank as CMC: Major
Final Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
When Burrows was appointed under authority of the Act of 11 July 1798 (1 Stat. 72) he was not known technically as “Major Commandant.” It was not until 1 May 1800, when Burrows was promoted to “Lieutenant Colonel Commandant” under the Act of 22 April 1800 (2 Stat. 29), that there was an alliance of rank and position for the head of the Marine Corps.

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1. Samuel Nicholas
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State of Birth: PA
Dates: B. 1744 D. 27 Aug 1790
Period Served: 28 Nov 1775 – Aug 1783
Initial Rank as CMC: Captain
Final Rank: Major
The resolution of the Continental Congress on 10 November 1775 provided for a colonel to command two battalions of Marines authorized, but the highest rank received by any Marine during the Revolution was that of major. Samuel Nicholas was appointed “Captain of Marines” on 28 November 1775, and promoted to major on 25 June 1776. Because of his senior status among other Marine officers of the Revolution, he is numbered as the first Commandant. The year 1781 saw Major Nicholas’ return to private life. By the summer of 1781 there were only three Marine captains and three lieutenants on active duty, and overall organization had ceased to exist.

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* Naval Academy Graduate

Reference Section
History and Museums Division

This should answer the questions:
How many commandants has the Marine Corps had?
Who was the first commandant of the US Marine Corps?

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