Calvin P. Titus: Hero of Peking
Calvin Pearl Titus
Medal of Honor Hero
"I'll Try, Sir", by H. Charles McBarron
Among the pivotal events in the history of the 14th Infantry Regiment is its participation in the China Relief Expedition of 1900. The Boxer Rebellion was at it's height and their goal was to sweep all "foreign devils" into the sea. Their army took effective control of China and soon the many foreign legations headquartered in Peking (today's Beijing) were surrounded and at risk of being attacked. They included about 850 Caucasians of various nationalities and about 3,000 Chinese Christians. An international rescue mission was quickly mounted. The United States, Austria, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia all ordered warships to the China coast. An initial force of English, Russian, German, Italian, Japanese and American soldiers and sailors was assembled, several thousand strong, to make an initial assault into Tientsin, on the route to Peking, to rescue the foreign residents who were under immediate threat of massacre. Meanwhile a larger force was being gathered, composed of roughly 16,000 soldiers from England, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and the United States, to fight it's way into Peking.
After a number of hard-fought battles en route to Peking, the army reached the city's 30-foot walls and faced a murderous enemy fire coming from them. Hiding behind a stone rampart supporting the wall, the leaders of Titus' company were discussing their alternatives when they observed that the walls had missing bricks, and cracks, and that it might be possible for a man to climb to the top. At that point, company bugler Calvin P. Titus, listening to the conversation, stepped forward and said, "I will try." Thus was born the motto of the 14th Infantry Regiment. Titus did try, and he succeeded in climbing the 30-foot wall, unarmed. Barehanded, he reconnoitered the area and nearby enemy tents, and then gave the all-clear to the men below. Others made the climb, then weapons were hoisted up. By noon the nearby walls had been cleared of enemy fire, the nearby gate opened, and the main assault into the city began, led by the 14th Infantry.
Calvin Titus received the Medal of Honor for his heroism. As a result of their capture of Peking, the 14th Infantry added a Chinese dragon to the Regimental Crest.
Biography of Calvin P. Titus
A narrative of the assault on the city walls, and Titus' heroic ascent - Brigadier General A. S. Daggett
Calvin P. Titus recalls the events of that day
References to Titus' military career
Titus as chaplain's assistant, he makes a friend for life in Chaplain Leslie R. Groves, Sr.
1962 - Lt. Col. Calvin P. Titus, USA (Retired) donates personal memorabilia to 14th Infantry
1964 - Calvin P. Titus receives birthday gift from Lt. Col Whitener, 14th Infantry
From "America in the China Relief Expedition", by Brig.-Gen. A. S. Daggett, 1903, Chapter XVIII
Before the two guns moved forward, General Chaffee took Company E, Fourteenth Infantry, Lieutenant Gohn, and moved forward along the bank of the canal. At the same time he ordered Colonel Daggett, with Company H, Lieutenant Mullay, to advance on the road parallel with the canal, and which led to the Tung gate of the Chinese City. Lieutenant Gohn met no resistance until he arrived near the bridge which crosses the moat running parallel with the east wall of the Chinese City. A sever fire from this wall and also from the east wall of the Tartar City was directed on this bridge by the Chinese. E Company crossed the bridge, and proceeded along the base of the wall about two hundred yards to a projecting bastion. The appearance of these men drew the enemy to that vicinity and increased their fire. It became necessary to rush H Company across the bridge one by one. Both companies were sheltered under the north wall of the Chinese City. This gave an opportunity to look about and consider the situation. Some Russian soldiers were across the canal behind houses, and could move neither forward, to the rear, nor to the right or left. It was ascertained that the Russian artillery had opened the Tung gate during the night, and a few soldiers were securely cooped up within the archway. All these Russian soldiers had been in this situation since 3 o'clock in the morning. The remaining distance of two hundred yards to the gate was so exposed to fire from the east wall of the Tartar City that a rush to that gate was not deemed advisable. The wall must be cleared of the enemy somehow, and to do it our soldiers must find a way to get on top of that wall. It was perpendicular and thirty feet high. There were no scaling-ladders, no ropes, no tools with which to construct means of ascent. There was absolutely nothing with those companies but their rifles. While casting about for some means for climbing those walls, Captain Learnard discovered that bricks had fallen out in many places, leaving cavities and corresponding projections all the way to the top of the wall. He suggested interrogatively that it might be possible to climb to the top by using the cavities and projections as a ladder. It seemed a difficult and dangerous undertaking. The wall was surmounted by a crenellated parapet. Hundreds of Chinese soldiers might be hiding behind it. A volunteer was called for to make the attempt. Immediately there stepped forward a young soldier who had been noted for his unspotted character and clean life. It was Trumpeter Calvin P. Titus, Company E, Fourteenth Infantry. He said: "I will try." Divesting himself of everything that would impede his progress, he began the ascent.
With what interest did the officers and men watch every step as he placed his feet carefully in the cavities and clung with his fingers to the projecting bricks! The first fifteen feet were passed over without serious difficulty, but there was a space of fifteen feet above him. Slowly he reaches the twenty-foot point. Still more carefully does he try his hold on those bricks to see if they are firm. His feet are not twenty-five feet from the ground. His head is near the bottom of an embrasure. All below is breathless silence. The strain is intense. Will that embrasure blaze with fire as he attempts to enter it? or will the butts of rifles crush his skull? Cautiously he looks through, and sees and hears nothing. He enters, and, as good fortune would have it, no Chinese soldiers are there. Titus stands in the embrasure, and informs those below that he thinks others can climb the wall in the same way, but adds some qualifications to his expressions.
Captain Learnard is the next to attempt the ascent, and is followed by Lieutenant Gohn and men of his company. Lieutenant Hanson soon follows.
Orders were given for the company to scale the wall. Leaving every ounce of weight behind, such men as were able to accomplish so difficult an undertaking began the ascent.
Captain Learnard was directed by his regimental commander to conduct the operations on the wall. The enemy soon discovered our soldiers on the wall, and opened rifle fire upon them from two directions, and artillery fire from a third. The men found cover behind the parapet of the bastion. But only five men were up there, and they with only two rifles. Here the cords with which the men drew water from the wells, and previously referred to, were put to an extraordinary use. They were let down from the top of the wall, tied to rifles and ammunition-belts, and drawn up; gun-slings were fastened together and used for the same purpose. In this way all rifles and ammunition were raised to the top of the wall.
As the men were armed, they opened fire on the enemy, and soon silenced their artillery and reduced the severity of their rifle fire. At a distance, our men might be taken for Chinese soldiers and fired upon by some of the allied forces. It therefore was necessary to indicate what soldiers they were. The flag was with the Third Battalion, some distance away. Private Detrick, the regimental commander's mounted orderly, was sent for it. He had been a cavalryman, and was a fine rider. Mounting his horse, he started on a full gallop, crossed the bridge before mentioned, where he was exposed to a terrific fire, and returned over the same route with the flag in an incredibly short time. It was 11:03 o'clock A.M. At this time fifteen or twenty soldiers were on the wall - enough to protect the flag. It was drawn up by a cord. It was a cloudless day, and a gentle breeze was blowing. As that flag was unfurled and stood out against that August Sky, there went up to heaven a shout of triumph that Spartans might have envied. Even the stolid Russians, who had been watching the operations from their position near by, caught the spirit of enthusiasm and echoed back the triumphant shout.
In his official report, General Chaffee said: "At 11 A.M. two companies of the Fourteenth Infantry...had scaled the wall of the Chinese City at the northeast corner, and the flag of that regiment was the first foreign colors unfurled upon the walls surrounding Peking.
In a letter written July 31, 1935, Calvin Titus recalls the events of 14 August, 1900:
On the night of August 13, 1900 the regiment went into camp a few miles east of Pekin, China. That night I turned my haversack wrong side out so as to be sure to find every hard tack crumb. A few of us tried to cook a pumpkin by building a fire over it but the result was more than poor. You see very little animal transportation got ashore with us and food was scare. During the night some bacon and hard tack arrived so we did get some breakfast the next morning. The weather was so hot that most everyone had thrown away their blanket rolls and only carried the haversack, canteen and cartridge belt. Of course we had no water tanks then so had to depend on our canteens.
About 10 o’clock in the morning of the 14th of August, Co. E of the 14th arrived, alone, at the north east corner of the Chinese City Wall. Fire opened on us form the east wall and we rushed over a small bridge and around this corner so the fire could not reach us. We continued west along this wall toward the wall of the Tartar City which we could see running north and south way to our front. Then fire opened from it and we got behind a bastion (big stone prop) of the wall besides us.
Col. Daggott and Adj. Learnard caught up with us there. They were standing with Lieut. Gohn and in their talk wondered if it would be possible to get on the wall there. Being a bugler and standing there listening to them I said to the Colonel: “I will see if I can get up if you wish, Sir.” He looked me up and down and finally said, “Well, if you think you can make it go ahead and try.”
I dropped all my equipment even my pistol and hat and using nicks between the big bricks went up. As it turned out no one was above us there and I think my presence on top was not discovered from Chinese farther down on both sides until I had pulled a rifle and belt up with a string and had opened fire on them. For me the most ticklish part of the event was when I found that there were a lot of matting tents on top and I had to find out if they were occupied before I could tell the company all was clear.
Having absolutely no weapons I decided to slip up by a door, make a noise, then if any one came out grab them and attempt to hoist them over the edge wall and drop them among our men. Naturally I was scared stiff but it had to be done; but all the fear went for nothing as there was no one in any of them.
When more men got up and our fire cleared the wall we moved down the top toward the Tartar Wall and before reaching it found a gate in the wall we were on. There a ramp led down from the top into the City and we went down inside. The rest I think you all know.
Of course we were happy and exhilarated to realize that we had accomplished the thing we had come so far to do, to release the legation people who had fought the Boxers back for about fifty days. We were also more than happy that our regiment had borne the brunt of the affair and that day and the day after, when we took the gates leading into the Imperial or Forbidden City, had so distinguished itself that on leaving Peking the artillery fired a salute of 100 guns to our colors.
Calvin P. Titus
Biography of Calvin Pearl Titus
From Iowa Medal of Honor Heroes site:
Titus was born in Vinton, Iowa, 22 September 1879 to Calvin and Cora Titus. His mother died when he was about eleven and shortly after that, around 1890, Titus moved to Oklahoma and later to Kansas to live with his aunt and uncle. As a young man he developed a strong Christian faith and a passion for music. Self-taught on the cornet and violin, young Calvin began accompanying his Uncle Bill, a traveling Salvation Army preacher, and played music during his uncle’s prayer meetings. He was also in the Wichita Salvation Army band.
During a Vermont meeting in 1898, news that the battleship Maine sank and that the Vermont National Guard sought recruits prompted Titus to enlist on the spot. “When they discovered that I played the cornet,” he wrote, “I was in. ‘We’re needing a bugler, and you’re it.’” Titus, however, caught malaria during training and his unit never left the states. So he made his way back to the Midwest. There he learned that troops were needed in the Philippines, a new American acquisition from the Spanish-American War. He enlisted in April 1899, in the regular army and was shipped to Manila with the 14th Infantry, arriving in June, and serving at Bacoor, again as a bugler and assistant to the chaplain. Less than a year later, Titus’s unit landed in China, some four hundred miles away, with the expeditionary force trying to rescue the besieged foreign legation from certain massacre.
Shortly after the siege of Peking, the site of Titus’ daring thirty-foot climb of the Peking wall, he returned to America and decided upon a military career. His heroics earned a presidential appointment to West Point in 1901. Typical of military service careers, Titus’ many assignments took him to many locations. Graduating from West Point as a Lieutenant, he left the army for a short time to undertake religious evangelical work, but re-enlisted in 1908, and joined his old unit, the 14th Infantry—still stationed in the Philippines where America maintained bases after the Philippine Insurrection. In 1910, the army transferred to Ft. Harrison, Montana, where he, among other things, fought forest fires. Subsequent duties the next four years involved training officers at Iowa and six other National Guard camps in the Midwest. Titus next joined General Pershing’s 1916 Mexican expedition to try and capture Pancho Villa. By the time America entered World War I, he had become a major and was a lieutenant colonel before Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, ended the war. He performed administrative duties in America and did not go overseas until after the war, where he served for a time in France and Germany.
Upon his return from France Titus took over the ROTC program at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As Professor of Military Science and Tactics, Major Titus ran the Coe’s battalion-strong program for six years, retiring about 1930. His final years were spent in San Fernando, California where he died in the veteran’s hospital 27 May 1966.
Initial enlistment, Titus becomes the bugler: Calvin Titus responding to Colonel Hodges, in a letter dated 31 July 1935:
At the outbreak of our war with Spain I was in Vermont, and enlisted with Company “K”, 1st Vermont Volunteers. The company had no buglers and as I played a cornet I was at once given the job of company bugler. After the regiment was mustered out I went back west and April 6, 1899 enlisted at Wichita, Kans. for service in the Philippine Islands. I arrived there in June 1899 and was assigned to Company “E”, 14th Infantry at Bacoor. Here again was a company without a bugler and as soon as I arrived I was again presented with a bugle.
Calvin P. Titus
References to his Military Career
From: Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York Since Its Establishment in 1802, By Brevet-Major-General George W. Cullum, Colonel of Engineers, U.S. Army, Retired
Supplement, Volume V, 1900-1910, Page 757-758
Student Nbr. 4380. (Born Ia.) CALVIN P. TITUS (Appointed at Large) Class Rank: 42
Volunteer service before becoming a cadet; Musician, 1st Vermont Volunteer Infantry, May 16, 1898 to Nov. 2, 1898; at Fort Ethan Allen, Vt., and Chickamauga Park, Ga.
Enlisted in regular infantry, April 5, 1899;
Joined Company E, 14th Infantry; on the South Line in Luzon, in June, 1899;
Fighting along Imus River, Oct. 6, 7 and 8, 1899;
In General Schwan’s expedition to San Francisco de Malabon, about second week in Oct., 1899;
Skirmishing at Malizi and Bacoor South Line, Nov. 3, 1899;
At Manila, P.I. (Philippine Islands), Dec 1899 to July 14, 1900;
With China Relief Expedition, July 14, 1900 to Nov., 1900;
In battles at Pei Tsang, Yang Tsun, assault and capture of Pekin,
Assault and capture of the gates of the Imperial City,
March through the Forbidden City;
In Manila, from Nov., 1900 to April 22, 1901;
On leave in the U.S., from May 30, 1901 to July 25, 1901.
Cadet at the Military Academy, July 29, 1901 to June 13, 1905, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to Second Lieut., 14th Infantry
On leave, June 13, 1905 to Sept. 13, 1905;
At Vancouver Barracks, Wash., until sailed for the Philippine Islands, Jan. 6, 1908;
Between these dates was at American Lake, Camp in 1906;
Also at relief of San Francisco, Cal., after earthquake;
At Camp Downes, Leyte, P.I., Feb 7, 1908;
Command of Machine Gun Platoon, 14th Infantry, from April, 1906;
Awards: Medal of Honor, service medal, Philippine insurrection, and China Relief Expedition.
[Click photo at right for a larger image...]
From other sources:
Serving as Capt. Apr. 6, 1917;
Major (temp) Aug. 5, 1917;
Lt. Col. Nov. 8, 1918. R.O.T.C. 24th Inf.,
Gen. Staff; 16th Inf. Stationed Columbus, NM;
Presidio of San Francisco, CA.,
Camp Logan, TX;
AEF. Overseas Jun. 11, 1919 to Feb. 14, 1922.
Discharged Jun. 30, 1920, from emergency commission as Lt. Col., Inf. USA
Reverted to RA status of 2nd Lt.
Awarded Medal of Honor.
From: Annual Report of The Commandant, The General Service Schools, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1926-1927
The Command and General Staff School opened on September 6, 1926, with two hundred and four (204) students, 199 from the Regular Army, 3 from the Marine Corps, and two from the Irish Free State Army. The list of graduates follows:
Honor Graduates Major Calvin P. Titus, Infantry
2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment has "cookout" in Yellowstone National Park
Chaplain's Assistant, and friendship with Chaplain Leslie R. Groves, Sr.
From the archives of the United States Army Chaplain Center, "Before the Chaplain Assistant" by William J. Hourihan, Ph.D.
.... Undoubtedly the best documented case of an enlisted man assisting a chaplain in this period is seen in the relationship which developed between Chaplain Leslie R. Groves, Sr., and Corporal Calvin P. Titus, when both men served with the Fourteenth Infantry Regiment after the Spanish-American War. . . . (Calvin) was assigned to the Fourteenth Infantry Regiment. The chaplain of the Fourteenth was Leslie R. Groves, Sr., a Presbyterian minister, who had joined the Army in 1896. By 1899 the Fourteenth was in the Philippines, and Titus and Groves formed a close relationship. Titus wrote later that he and Groves “took to each other at once and became fast friends.” The young, twenty-year old corporal was soon accompanying Chaplain Groves when he held Sunday services for the various companies of the Fourteenth, which were garrisoned around the city of Manila. “I got a violin,” Titus remembered over sixty years later, “and played the tunes for the songs sung at each place.”
(On the march to Peking, Titus later wrote) "The first night camp after we started north from Tientsin was in a field of corn - just like the ones I knew in Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma! The ears were nice, big and Wonderful to eat! No one told us what the Chinese used for fertilizer! (Human manure) nor that any green stuff might do us in! Well - my insides just knocked me out - and every little while the next day I would have to stop by the roadside while the march went right on! The chaplain (Groves) kept at the tail of the column - most of the time walking, leading his horse, and when he found me half torn inside out - he got me up into the saddle and caught up with the regiment!"
For (his action scaling the Peking wall) Titus was recommended to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Chaplain Groves was also recommended for the same award for his activities that day. Both men were soon back together, Groves holding services and Titus helping him. Groves was delighted that Titus had been so honored, describing him as “one of the reliable Christian men of the regiment.” “He is,” Groves wrote to his wife, “a modest chap, fine looking and afraid of nothing but wrongdoing.” As Earl F. Stover writes: “Thus, the Fourteenth’s religious leaders possessed unusual credentials; both men had been recommended for the Medal of Honor.” Groves, who had also been recommended for the decoration during the Spanish-American War, did not receive the prestigious award; he was given instead an “Honorable Mention.” Titus, however, was presented with the Medal of Honor. He also received an appointment to West Point. In June 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt, after reviewing the Corps of Cadets as part of the festivities commemorating the centennial celebration of the founding of the United States Military Academy, presented the Medal of Honor to Cadet Titus, of the Fourth Class, for “gallantry at Peking, China, August 14, 1900, while a soldier of the Fourteenth U.S. Infantry.”
When newly minted second lieutenant Calvin P. Titus returned to the Philippines in 1905, he lived with Chaplain Groves and his family for a time until he was assigned quarters. His strongly held religious beliefs would lead him to become an ordained minister in 1909, and then apply to the Army to become a chaplain. After careful study his request to become an Army chaplain was denied, the paramount reason being that the denomination in which Titus was ordained was not a recognized denomination.
He continued his career in the Army and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1930. He settled in California, very near Chaplain Groves who had retired in 1918. The two often visited each other.
In 1962, Lt. Col. Calvin P. Titus (Retired) donated several items from his personal collection to the 14th Infantry Regiment, including his sabre, bugle and pistol. To see photos of the ceremony, click here
September 22, 1964, Lt. Col. W. J. Whitener presents a birthday gift to Lt. Col. Calvin P. Titus (Retired)
Calvin P. Titus, Hero of Peking
Civilian portrait and Yellowstone photos from Nancy Opdyke, great-grand-neice of Calvin P. Titus
Copyright © 2012 14th Infantry Regiment Association
Last modified: February 04, 2017