George Marshall, Gunner, USN (1782-1855)
George Marshall was born in 1782 on the Aegean island of Rhodes in Greece. The surname is believed to have been anglicized from the original. A notice of his death published during the 1855 yellow fever epidemic in Portsmouth VA included information, provided by his daughter Maria, about his birthplace as well as these clues to the names of his parents: "Mich." and "I."
At some time before 1806, Marshall had appeared in the United States. He received a Warrant as Gunner, USN, in 1807, and was assigned to the Washington Navy Yard (read his service record here). Around this time, he married his wife, Phillipi.
George served on several ships while maintaining a home for his young family in the Washington D.C. area. With the birth of a third surviving daughter during July 1820, the family moved with the infant and two older daughters to Portsmouth, VA. Except for a brief period later in that decade, Portsmouth would remain the family's home through the remainder of their lives.
Fifteen years into his service, Marshall authored Marshall's Practical Marine Gunnery: Containing a View of the Magnitude, Weight, Description & Use, of Every Article Used in the Sea Gunner's Department, in the Navy of the United States. Printed in Norfolk VA by Thomas G. Broughton "At the Office of the Norfolk and Portsmouth Herald," and published by C. Hall at the "Sign of the Ledger, Main-Street" in 1822, the Gunnery had been "strictly examined by some of the most experienced Officers in the United States' Navy" who judged the book to be "a useful work for all classes of Officers, but more particularly for the junior class." The book remained the standard practical guide for gunnery for the U.S. Navy until well after the founding of what would become the United States Naval Academy. Though obviously a document of a bygone era, traces of the Gunnery's principles still exist in U.S. Navy regulations of our own time.
The Gunnery's preface, given in its entirety below, explain the scope of, and need for, a useful technical handbook to standardize usage across the service. The preface also alludes to Marshall's status as a non-native English speaker and apologizes for the "harsh ... conciseness or perspicuity" of its prose, deemed "uncouth" in comparison to the expectation of the reading public of the time, civilian and military alike, for the "flowers and decorations" that "constitute(d) the beauties of style." This was a workmanlike text, not a diversion.
On 19 June 1824, Marshall was disabled while serving on USS Hornet in Gosport. In spite of being declared permanently unfit for duty, he was ordered to the USS North Carolina just months later. He served on that Mediterranean cruise in 1824-1826 as 2nd Gunner. A number of Navy men aboard that cruise, including Lt. Robert Randolph, would transfer to the U.S. Frigate Constitution in 1826, and under Randolph's sponsorship, a young Greek refugee rescued by "Old Ironsides" in May 1827 would enter the U.S. in 1828 and eventually be placed with Marshall, who treated the boy as a son, marrying him to his second daughter and teaching him the trade of gunnery. The young refugee's name was George Sirian.
Following his Mediterranean service, Marshall was again assigned to the Washington Navy Yard in 1827. Though his Navy career continued into the early 1850s and totaled more than 46 years, the North Carolina cruise was Marshall's last duty at sea.
George Marshall became one of the many victims of the yellow fever epidemic in Portsmouth VA during summer 1855, and he is laid to rest near other victims in the family, including his namesake grandson George, the first child of Marshall's daughter Eleanor and adopted son, George Sirian.
THE following compendium of Nautical Gunnery originated in a view to individual and exclusive convenience of the Author. While performing the station he has occupied during twelve years in the United States' Navy, he had constantly to regret, the want of a circumstantial and detailed view of the duties of his department. And finding his unassisted memory inadequate to a prompt and easy command of his own experience, he saw the utility of methodizing and reducing, to established rules, the observations wherewith an active and practical life had furnished him.