The house of the Commandant of the Marine Corps is one of the oldest continuously-occupied buildings in the capital of the United States. Steeped in American history, the house was spared the torch when the British captured and burned Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. All but the first two Commandants have lived in the 15,000 square-foot house and, since 1916, all the historical occupants of the house were honored with portraits by order of then-Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
All but one, that is. There have been 37 Commandants of the Marine Corps but the house holds just 36 portraits.
The conspicuously missing spot belongs to Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, the fourth Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was the only Commandant ever to be fired from the position and the one with the fewest surviving records. No one knows what he looked like or even knows the location of his final resting place.
This is not Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, this is Archibald Henderson, his successor.
Luckily for us, it’s not so much of a mystery anymore. The Marine Corps Association and Foundation’s Robert T. Jordan did an exhaustive work on the life of Lt. Col. Gale. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, around 1782 and his tenure as Commandant lasted from March 1819 until October 1820. In the decades that followed, Gale fell off the map. He’s seldom-mentioned in the annals of USMC history because the events surrounding his dismissal were said to have brought “embarrassment” upon himself and the United States Marine Corps. And so, he was pretty much lost to history entirely.
Until 1966, that is. General Wallace M. Greene Jr., the 23rd Commandant of the Marine Corps set up an investigation into the history of the Marine who fell from grace.
What was learned, however, was still very little. Anthony Gale arrived in the nascent United States in 1793. When President John Adams rebooted the Marine Corps (which was disbanded after the American Revolution), Gale was among the first to sign up as an officer. He commanded Marines guarding French prisoners of the quasi-War in Philadelphia and took to sea aboard the USS Ganges, where he fought Barbary Pirates and British sailors alike.
Gale cared deeply for his Marines and when a Naval officer, Lieutenant Allan MacKensie, arrested one of them aboard ship, Gale slapped the officer and challenged him to a duel — the duel that killed MacKensie. That’s not what got him the boot from the Corps, though. Superiors in Washington believed the duel would force Navy officers to treat Marines with respect.
This is also not Gale. This is Maj. Gen. Charles Heywood, 9th Commandant and Medal of Honor Recipient.
His career continued, and soon he was married and saw service aboard the USS President and USS Constitution. By 1804, Gale was brevet Major Anthony Gale and his duties became focused on the recruitment and training of Marines. But soon, there was a new sheriff in town: Commandant Lt. Col. Frank Wharton took over for Commandant William Ward Burrows and Burrows looked at Gale with a much sharper eye than his predecessors.
Gale’s once squeaky-clean reputation soon became tainted by notes of alcoholism, sloppy management of the Marine Corps Barracks, and allegations that Gale used Marine Corps funds to renovate his personal home. Wharton took Gale to trial, but Gale was cleared of any wrongdoing. Still, Wharton sent Gale to the then-backwater of New Orleans – perhaps not the best place for a potential alcoholic, even in the early 19th Century. Still, when Wharton died in 1818, Anthony Gale was the most senior Marine Corps officer.
That did not mean he was promoted instantly.
No one forgot the charges filed against Gale, whether he was cleared or not. Others tried to have him removed from consideration to become the next Commandant. Gale was less concerned with the succession crisis and more concerned with keeping his head down and retaining his command. Even though he was not trying to be Commandant, that’s exactly what happened. He was promoted to Lt. Col. Commandant of the Marine Corps on March 3, 1819.
Gale had trouble with the position immediately. The Marine Corps became disorganized and undisciplined in the six months since Wharton died and he found himself spending more time fighting to re-organize it while the Navy Secretary and President Monroe would frequently counter his orders whenever it suited them — at the request of Gale’s subordinates. Overwhelmed and frustrated, Gale turned again to booze.
His mental state deteriorated as he became a drunkard, a womanizer, and verbally abusive toward his subordinates. Eventually, he was accused of drunkenness, conduct unbecoming an officer, signing false documents, and leaving his quarters without permission and was placed under house arrest. He was court-martialed and plead mental instability during the inquisition.
The court still found Gale guilty and removed him as the Commandant on Oct. 16, 1820, less than two years into his tenure.
This is Maj. Gen. Ben Hebard Fuller, the 15th Commandant, who is both not Gale and consolidated the Fleet Marine Force Concept.
After being helped out of the service, Gale moved to his home in Philadelphia, but found no peace there. He eventually moved his family to a log cabin in Kentucky where he found that being a farmer was not in his blood, either. He turned back to his old friend, alcohol. He fought to be granted a pension for his instability, earning one 15 years later in what might be one of the earliest veteran disability claim suits.
According to Kentucky records found by the Marine Corps, Gale died of Lung Cancer in 1843 in Kentucky. A number of his sons also joined the Marine Corps, some of whom served in the Civil War. They apparently had no idea he served as Commandant, believing he was a quartermaster in the Corps. But Gale’s sons are also lost to history, so even if a supposed burial site is ever found, there’s no way to definitively prove it.