History of The Marines’ Hymn
The Marines’ Hymn is one of the most readily recognized songs in the world today and is the oldest of the service songs of our country. The history of the hymn has been clouded by the passing of time and confused by oral tradition. But there is no confusion on the part of the hearer when The Marines’ Hymn is heard. It is as easily identified with the Marine Corps as “The Star-Spangled Banner” is with our nation. To all Marines it has become a sacred symbol of the pride and professionalism of a Marine and you will find them standing straight and tall at the position of attention when it is performed.
The music to the hymn is believed to have originated in the comic opera Geneviéve de Brabant composed by the French composer Jacques Offenbach. Originally written as a two-act opera in 1859, Offenbach revised the work, expanding it to three acts in 1867. This revised version included the song “Couplets des Deux Hommes d’Armes” and is the musical source of The Marines’ Hymn.
The author of the words to the hymn is unknown. One tradition suggested that an unknown Marine wrote the words in 1847. This would have been 20 years before the music was written by Offenbach and is not likely. The first two lines of the first verse were taken from words inscribed on the Colors of the Corps.
After the war with the Barbary pirates in 1805 the Colors were inscribed with the words “To the Shores of Tripoli.” After Marines participated in the capture of Mexico City and the Castle of Chapultepec (also known as the Halls of Montezuma) in 1847, the words on the Colors were changed to read “From the shores of Tripoli to the Halls of Montezuma.” The unknown author of the first verse of the hymn reversed this order to read “From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.”