William Sharp Bush
Rank(s): Marine Lieutenant
Dates of Service: 6/11/1812 - 8/9/1812
Birth Date: 7/27/1786
Death Date: 8/9/1812
Born on July 27, 1786 in Wilmington, Delaware, William Sharp Bush was the son of John Bush, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. The family’s circumstances prevented the young man from attending college, but he did receive the benefits of a private tutor, enabling him to “acquire a fund of information calculated to give him a dignified rank in the general round of conversation.” With a good “English” education under his belt, his father placed him in the care of a merchant to learn the secrets of a successful business. The world of the counting house held no appeal for Bush, however, and he soon moved to the country to take up farming.
In 1807, following the British attack on the frigate Chesapeake, Bush sought a commission in the state militia. “Ambition and his love of country” united, and the following summer he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. In March 1811 he was promoted to first lieutenant.
The lieutenant of Marines was in charge of the ship’s Marine detachment. Among his men, his command was supreme, but in terms of the shipboard hierarchy, the Marine lieutenant was subordinate to the ship’s captain and officer of the watch. His duties were those that directly related to the supervision and training of the Marine detachment. Every evening he inspected the men to see that they were clean, sober, and in good health. He frequently trained the men at the manual of arms and occasionally allowed them to fire at a target. He ensured that a guard was properly formed and saw the sentries posted in the proper places around the ship. In battle, the Marine lieutenant formed up his men in the waist of the ship to act as sharpshooters or to repel boarders. A Marine lieutenant made $30.00 per month.
Battles and Engagements
Transferred from the recruiting service in Pennsylvania to Marine headquarters in Washington, Bush joined Constitution’s crew on June 11, 1812. Seven days later the United States declared war on Great Britain. Scarcely a month later, Constitution engaged HMS Guerriere some 200 miles east of Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the quarterdeck with his Marines, Bush stood poised to strike should the opportunity arise.
“In the heat of the action the Marines were called aft, led by the illustrious Bush, who, mounting the taffrail, sword in hand, and as he exclaimed “Shall I board her” received the fatal ball in his left cheek bone, which passed through to the back of his head, thus fell that Great and Good officer, who when living was beloved & now gone, is lamented by all. His loss is deeply regretted by his country & friends, but he died as he lived, with honor to both.”
Constitution won the day, but the Marines lost Bush, the first U.S. Marine Corps officer killed in combat during the War of 1812.